29 January 2024

"It makes her feel very proud of her ancestors."

Image: Annie sits at a table, using a paintbrush to create art on paper.

Annie is a proud Aboriginal woman with family from Milingimbi in the Northern Territory. For Annie, art is not just a passion; it is a powerful tool that connects her with her culture and traditions.

Annie attends the Darwin Community Art Program every week, with assistance from her Life Without Barriers' support team. Sameer Mohammed, Regional Operations Manager, Northern Territory, Disability and Mental Health, shared that creating art leaves Annie feeling empowered.

"It makes her feel very proud of her ancestors. She expresses her feelings through art, and by doing that, she maintains a strong connection to her Country.”

Image: Annie painting with ochre.

In 2020, Annie received an Arts and Disability mentorship grant from the Australian Council for Arts. This prestigious award enabled Annie to travel from Darwin to her mother’s country on the island of Yurrwi/Milingimbi in Northeast Arnhem Land with her support worker to take part in a residency and mentorship program.

Annie's studio residency and mentorship program was at the Milingimbi Arts and Culture Centre, under the supervision of local artists and nominated mentors. This open-plan studio provided a vibrant space for Annie to work and facilitated interactions with fellow artists and valuable one-on-one sessions with her mentor.

Image: Annie and her teacher at the Milingimbi Arts and Culture Centre.

What made this experience truly special for Annie was the opportunity to learn and receive artistic instruction in her first language, Yolngu Matha, and explore dreaming stories and totem animals with the guidance of senior Milingimbi artists who understood her place in the community from clan and kinship perspectives.

For one of her art pieces, Annie's mentor encouraged her to display stories from her mum and other family members on a small hollow log, introducing her to different strokes, patterns, shapes, colours, and lines as she painted her story.

"Annie's mentor showed her paintings from her family members who told their stories to help Annie start painting her story. She loved it," shared Anne Hoffmann, Disability Support Worker.

During her residency, Annie had her first experience working with traditional materials and mediums, experimenting with bark painting techniques, painting with natural ochres, and learning about weaving and dying processes.

“It was a dream come true for Annie as she never thought she would be a part of a local mentorship program in her mother country.”

“She was fascinated by the local artists and their paintings. Every time she goes to Milingimbi, she makes sure to visit the Arts and Culture Centre,” said Sameer.

Image: Annie using natural materials for her art.

Annie’s artistic adventure extended beyond the Milingimbi Arts and Culture Centre to a field trip led by local artists to special local sites. Here, Annie gathered bush seeds, plants and ochres, and observed how the bark is collected and treated to create bark painting surfaces.

The experience helped Annie to understand where traditional materials come from, the special places from which they are collected, and the stories and dreamings associated with the materials.

“Annie loves exploring nature, and during her visit to a field centre, she gained a new appreciation for the importance of traditional materials,” shared Sameer.

"When we returned to Darwin, Annie took a lot of joy in showing me where to gather the traditional materials in an urban setting," said Anne.

Image: Annie collecting stones on the field trip.

Spending time with family was another cherished aspect of her time in Milingimbi. Regular visits allowed Annie to engage in their day-to-day activities, which often involved lots of food!

These visits were very special for Annie as she was able to meet and connect with her extended family. Together, they shared conversations in their traditional language of Yolngu Matha.

“Whenever Annie visits her country, she meets most of her extended family members, and they celebrate the homecoming of Annie.”

Now back in Darwin, Annie has continued exploring her artistic talents, participating in weekly sessions at Darwin Community Arts. One of her most recent projects was a public art workshop centred on transforming ordinary picnic tables into captivating works of art.

Annie was actively involved in making this outdoor seating space at the Rapid Creek Foreshore beautiful, painting a mural on the table and surrounding area alongside her fellow artists.

Image: Annie working on the picnic table project with her fellow artists from Darwin Community Arts.

Her experience has left a lasting impact, and she has expressed a strong desire to maintain her connection with the arts community. Anne shared that Annie is particularly excited about actively participating in future programs that highlight local Aboriginal paintings.

"Annie loves painting she wants to paint everything she can and become a famous artist."

A person's story is precious. We take storytelling seriously. Sometimes, people are able to tell their own stories, and we love that. We always make sure they give us their ok, and we will always honour the trust placed in us to bring their story forward.

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