Indigenous artists illuminate Sydney Opera House in lights festival

Vivid Sydney festival is back – with impressive  light art installations, musical performances and TED Talks-style idea panels.

The free winter festival (remember it’s winter Down Under) began last Friday and continues through June 18.

Light projections on the Sydney Opera House this year are inspired by indigenous cultures in a work called “Songlines.” During the festival, which began May 27, the Opera House offers evening backstage tours ($165 per person) to get a firsthand look at the sets and stages where musicians perform.

The light show continues at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, which has been transformed into a canvas as artwork emerges on the building’s surface. The museum extends its hours to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays during Vivid Sydney.

Visitors can take a free Vivid Light Walk around the lights at the city’s waterfront.

Around 1.7 million people are expected to attend NSW’s biggest festival, as well as the world’s largest festival of lights, music and ideas.

Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said the festival was so popular, it was now “in a completely different stratosphere” from its first season in 2008 when a mere 220,000 people attended.

The festival began with the debut of a 15-minute projection on the Sydney Opera House that was created by a group of Indigenous artists. The piece, “Songlines,” was devised by Rhoda Roberts, head of Indigenous programming at the Sydney Opera House.

The process of creating the project, which draws on the interconnected history and relationships between Australia’s Indigenous tribes, was more than just projecting pretty pictures onto the iconic structure, Roberts told The Sydney Morning Herald. “You don’t have the luxury of just slapping up artworks,” she said. “There’s so much protocol and cultural responsibilities for each artist.”

“Cathedral of Light” is only one piece of Vivid Sydney, a festival combining light displays, music and speakers. The festival transformed the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and other local landmarks with more than 90 installations, including projections, interactive exhibits, sculptures and performances.

Many of the installations are concentrated around the Circular Quay in Sydney Harbour, with additional pieces on display throughout the city.

The creative director of Vivid, Ignatius Jones, termed the impressive works at the zoo as “insane, amazing.” It is a hyperactive wonderland of light, lasers and design.

“It is everything we were trying to achieve and more,” he said. “Vivid is about shining a new light on Sydney, which is such an amazing city from so many different points of view. It just gave us such a great opportunity to do completely new things.”

A visitor to the Sydney Botanical Garden’s inaugural contribution to the Vivid Sydney light festival takes a picture of the ‘Cathedral of Light’ during a preview of the annual interactive light installation and projection event around Sydney, Australia May 25, 2016. Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

A visitor to the Sydney Botanical Garden’s inaugural contribution to the Vivid Sydney light festival takes a picture of the ‘Cathedral of Light’ during a preview of the annual interactive light installation and projection event around Sydney, Australia May 25, 2016. Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

The entrance to Vivid at Taronga Zoo. Photo: James Horan/Destination NSW

The entrance to Vivid at Taronga Zoo. Photo: James Horan/Destination NSW

The theme of the projection called "Songlines" focuses on indigenous cultures.

The theme of the projection called “Songlines” focuses on indigenous cultures.

An echidna joined a host of other animals to light up Taronga Zoo. Photo: James Horan/Destination NSW

An echidna joined a host of other animals to light up Taronga Zoo. Photo: James Horan/Destination NSW

Gondwana Light Lab at Chatswood. Photo: James Horan/Destination NSW

Gondwana Light Lab at Chatswood. Photo: James Horan/Destination NSW

Harbour lights at the opening night of Vivid Sydney. Photo: James Horan/Destination NSW

Harbour lights at the opening night of Vivid Sydney. Photo: James Horan/Destination NSW