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Indigenous artist Shanai Kellet on art, culture and nature
Our First Nation’s People have been custodians of the land for over 60,000 years. In that time they’ve also been creating art, first on rocks, and now on canvas that represents their culture, it’s a way of passing folklore down between generations and today’s contemporary Aboriginal artists are continuing that tradition of storytelling.
For Yorta Yorta, Yura woman, contemporary artist and educator Shanai Kellet, painting connects her spiritually to the land and her culture. She believes that every Australian should do “just a little bit of homework when it comes to understanding the depth of understanding our First Nation’s People have of the interdependent relationship between an individual and nature.
“This reciprocal relationship between the land and people is sustained by the environment and cultural knowledge,’’ Shanai says.
“The land is our mother, we are of the land, and the land provides us with food, water and culture. It is our duty to protect and preserve it in any way we can.”
From how to ethically buy indigenous art to her connection to nature, here’s our chat with Shanai.
I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, travelling Australia, connecting to my culture in different ways. I drew inspiration as a little girl watching my mother paint. It gave me the eagerness to practice and develop my own unique style. I learnt by doing and watching. I have always been self conscious of my own art though and it’s taken me three years to get the courage to even start an Instagram page to showcase my work!
I view the environment and the world in an abstract way and I suppose that shows in my art. Rivers, sunsets, gum trees flowering, sand patterns, dune middens and the wonderful colours of the underwater of our country are what I love. Everything I see is portrayed through universal dot/line/symbol patterns that run through my cultural routes.
When I am ‘on country’ (in the Northern Territory) painting, that is when I’m the closest to being connected spiritually to the land and my culture.
My best tip is to speak to the artist themselves. I think it is vital to make sure the artist is receiving 100 per cent of the profit. There are many companies out there who are ripping people off, which saddens me. Especially remote artists when there is a language barrier. Buying Indigenous art through the right channels ensures the money goes back to the artist and the community and creates long term sustainability for the Indigenous community-owned-and-controlled arts centres.
Fake Aboriginal artworks, non-Indigenous people using the symbols and dot work for their own purposes… the list goes on. That’s why it’s important to communicate with the artist and ask questions to the people who are selling the work.
At the time yes, however it has since backed off. I guess that’s just how society operates. I hope that through awareness and education more government changes and action will exist for future generations and I’m hopeful that non indigenous people have somewhat of a ‘ah ha’ moment where they just get it!
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