Rare chance to see Aboriginal Christian artwork

A rare opportunity to see the artwork of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Christians is a part of this week’s NAIDOC celebrations.

An exhibition of 22 paintings by 11 established and emerging artists is open until Sunday at Newtown Mission in Sydney’s inner west, with some of the artworks available for sale. They were all painted during the Grasstree Gathering (a cross-denominational event bringing together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders from across Australia) that was held in Sydney in March.

Grasstree Gathering’s coordinator Brooke Prentis, who curated the exhibition with Newtown Mission’s creativity and justice pastor, Helen Wright, called on Australian Christians to support these artists, who do not always get the recognition they deserve.

“We have many Aboriginal artists that are very talented, but when we look at our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian artists, who are painting God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit message as having been here in this land for over 65,000 years, that’s a beautiful gift to the Australian church,” she tells Eternity.

The exhibition features two the artists – Safina Stewart and Aunty Imiyari Yilpi Adamson – who feature in Bible Society’s award-winning Indigenous art book, Our Mob God’s Story.

Our Mob God’s Story was a huge step but we need people – especially Christians – to support these artists by buying original work because that’s their livelihood, they’ve dedicated their lives to God and they have this beautiful gift of painting, so we really should get behind them and support them,” she said.

She said the artworks that are for sale are priced at $120 to $5000, but before any purchaser can take a work home Brooke hopes to take the exhibition to Melbourne and is looking for a church in Melbourne to act as host.

“Where else can you go in Australia and see an exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian artwork?” – Brooke Prentis

The other artists are Sharyn Malone, Shaliece Farmer, Ally Jensen, Stevie Jean O’Chin, Aunty Yaritji Heffernan, Aunty Karen Kulyuru, Mona Lewis, Robert Taylor and Lindsey Jones.

She said visitors had made several requests for commissions by artists such as Stevie Jean O’Chin, who is still in her 20s. Most of the other artists are well established, but Robert Taylor from Port Augusta and Shaliece Farmer from Western Australia are first-time painters, as is Lindsey Jones

“It’s an amazing collection of different artworks painted in the breaks in Grasstree. When you see the quality of the artworks and you knew how little time they had it’s quite incredible,” Brooke says.

She said the fact that she and Helen Wright launched the exhibition together last Sunday as equals, as Christian leaders, one Aboriginal, one non-Aboriginal, was an example of how art can help create a better future through Reconciliation, which she calls friendship.

“To bring honour and empowerment to all of these Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian artists is a beautiful thing to be a part of – and a very rare thing. Where else can you go in Australia and see an exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian artwork?”

She believes indigenous art can help non-Aboriginal Christians understand how land is connected to creation “and how as Aboriginal peoples we’ve been stewards of God’s wondrous creation in the land now called Australia.”

Brooke Prentis is the Aboriginal spokesperson for Common Grace as well as coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering. She works ecumenically to speak on issues of justice affecting our nation and sharing a message of Reconciliation as friendship.

Common Grace’s NAIDOC Week 2018 series is displaying one of the paintings each day with the artist’s permission.