NAIDOC Week! The stage is ours to shout, ‘This is the magnificence of our people! This is the ancientness of our lineage! This is the sacredness of our land; hear the beauty of our languages, see the creativity of our culture, feel the depth of our stories, the gravity of our struggle, the power of our passion! Meet us where we are at.’
I’m a storyteller. With Aboriginal (Wuthithi Country), Torres Strait (Mabuiag Island), Ambonese, English and Scottish heritage I am a bridge builder striving for restoration and healing. As a member of the local community in Bass Coast I honour those who have gone before, those who are here now, and those who are yet to come.
For me NAIDOC is about remembering our Aboriginal and Torres Strait heroes and heroines. Those like William Cooper, Pastor Doug Nicolls and Aunty Gladys Nicolls. We remember their challenges and triumphs. We are inspired by their legacies.
We celebrate the achievements of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people though NAIDOC Awards with categories that include sports, the arts, academics and Eldership. Then look ahead, inspired with renewed vision.
“Always was, always will be ...”
These powerful words invite all Australians to embrace the true history of this land now called Australia. They remind us that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been here a very, very long time.
Our people have cared for these lands and waters for thousands of generations. The words of this year's NAIDOC theme echo the chants heard through civil rights movements and protest marches. Our people have defended our connection to the land and the dignity of our people. For me, these words inspire hope, purpose and passion.
I was invited to submit for the NAIDOC art show after meeting celebrated local Aboriginal artist Patrice Mahoney. She introduced me to Mary and John Mutsaers who were curating the exhibitions. These friendships have meant a great deal to me since moving to the Bass Coast six years ago. These exhibitions are a beautiful celebration of our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community who now have the privilege of living on Bunurong/Boon Wurrung country.
Many of my artworks develop without objectives or structure. They are best described as a “pilgrimage”'. A journey into silent depths, where beauty lies quiet waiting to be found, and truth is waiting to be absorbed.
I “feel” my way through these paintings. As though waiting for the next instruction or waiting for the story to show itself to me. It is a deeply spiritual and prayerful process where I am a co-creator with the Creator. It is quite a mysterious pilgrimage that is hard to put into words. All I can tell you is that the process is a gift of nourishment and healing to me.
In terms of process, I enjoy using acrylic paints on stretched canvases most. I enjoy the fluidity of thin brush linework, creating Indigenous styled patterns, and playing with the contrasts of black and white against vibrant colour backgrounds.
I have always been influenced by traditional art from the Pacific, Australia and First Nations people globally. Traditional Aboriginal symbols can sometimes be found in my pieces while at other times I carry a more contemporary Indigenous style. But the richest feature of my artwork is the meaningful stories they entail. Many have expressed that my paintings come alive with their relevance and application to life.
When you come to the art show, whether in person or virtually via the online exhibition, I invite you all to come with an open heart and mind. Enter in slowly and thoughtfully. Give yourself time. Come in a posture to truly “listen” to the stories we have to share. The artists bring their creativity and voices as a gift to you. See it as a gift. Open the gift. Receive the gift. Let it shape you and change you. Let it affect you.
I am still painting for the exhibition and don’t want to give too much away but, within the theme of “Always Was, Always Will Be”, there is a lovely one in there about Caring for Country, and another bold one about building lasting relationships with cultural integrity. You’ll have to come along to find out more!
Like most people, my life is very busy with a lively young family, my teaching, art, and our family business B’Spoke Mobile. I have no idea how I find time to paint!
Creativity and being connected to the Creator is my life force. I am an artist in motion. I create in motion amongst the action and activity of life. Much like a dancer who moves dynamically amongst everything else that is also moving around her.
We come from long lines of creative family. From both my Mum and Dad's lines. Our family and ancestors have always been storytellers, artists, musicians, dancers, performers, teachers, and leaders bringing strength, beauty, hope and vision. We follow in their footsteps and continue the role given us.
The blessing for me is that my family is so creative. We perpetually witness each other's ingenuity. My kids are awesome. They are all artistic in different ways whether through composing music, writing stories, sketching detailed design, building masterpieces, dancing, designing new fashions, sewing outfits.
They can all spin a yarn and make your belly ache with laughter. They remind me not to take myself too seriously because, creativity, at its essence, is about joyful playfulness and trust.
After NAIDOC Week, I will continue in my teaching roles and begin preparing for the #ChangeTheHeart prayer services run by Common Grace in the lead up to #Jan26 as a response to Aunty Jean Phillips call to prayer for our nation.
Last year over twenty #ChangeTheHeart services were run all over the nation by fellow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders.
With the support of Rev Wendy Elson, Rev Jennie Gordon and Rev Arnie Wierenga, from the Presbytery of Gippsland Uniting Church, we held our first #ChangeTheHeart service in Cape Paterson with around 40 people joining us. It was a profound time of truth telling, justice, faith and connection. I can't wait for our next one. Keep an ear out.
I’ll be running an online art workshop during NAIDOC week based on this year’s theme. Keep an eye out on the Council’s calendar and Bass Coast South Gippsland Reconciliation Group emails for sign up details.
Safina Stewart’s works can be viewed at Wonthaggi ArtSpace as part of the NAIDOC Week celebrations, from November 3 to December 13, online at https://www.naidoc-art.com.au/ or at www.artbysafina.com.au.
*National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.