How indigenous artwork plays an important role in Reconciliation 

Jenna Oldaker Fri, 2 Jun 2023

First Nations artist Jenna Oldaker, who has created Philanthropy Australia’s RAP painting, reflects on the significance of artwork as the oldest vehicle of storytelling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – and as a conversation starter for learning and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians today. 

Indigenous artwork is our Country’s first form of art. It is our way of storytelling, of communicating, and sharing our culture and heritage with others. Through my own artwork I am able to communicate and share with others the stories of Wadawurrung Country and the importance of my own culture and heritage. Without Indigenous art in this Country, we lose so much – we lose our colour and vibrance, we lose our identity, and all that has shaped our culture for hundreds of years.   

Being able to share this with others, is an incredible vehicle for change and reconciliation. Art creates a conversation with people, and allows them to talk about ideas and values they may never have thought of before. This is especially prevalent with this year’s NRW theme, Be a Voice for Generations. We all need to use our voice and actions to create a better, more just Australia for everyone – to continue the work of our Elders, and help ensure we create a better Australia for all future generations. 

The main vision I hold for my work is to educate and to be enjoyed. I like to think my artwork is fun and exciting, but it also holds an opportunity to learn. All of my artworks are named in traditional Wadawurrung language, and each one tells a story of my culture and heritage. When writing my artwork descriptions, I ensure tobreak down the elements of the artwork, including the Ttraditional symbols and what they convey. This is another way of sharing and helping to educate others about Wadawurrung culture and Country.  

If someone can look at a piece of my artwork and learn one new Wadawurrung word, or symbol, or even just have a new idea about what Aboriginal culture is, then I’m doing something to change the narrative of how people view Aboriginal culture in this Country. I want my artwork to start conversations that wouldn’t have be spoken about had they not seen it.  

But to me, art is also simply to be enjoyed and create a sense of freedom – a single piece of artwork can hold endless amounts of possibilities and ideas. What I envision when I create a piece can be completely different to what you envision when you look at it. So, whie I aim to educate and help others learn about Wadawurrung culture and my heritage – art can just be fun and something to be enjoyed as well.  

That’s what I hope people hold on to when the view my art. Did you find joy from it? Did you learn from it? If they can say yes, then I feel as though my artwork holds a purpose and has helped us on our Reconciliation journey.  

Nyatne (Thank You)