Niningka Lewis from Pukatja (Ernabella, SA) was selected for the 2018 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Awards for her captivating work titled, ‘Australian Coat of Arms, we were there and we are here’. Tjanpi artwork is a platform for sharing Tjukurpa (ancestral story, law) but equally, it responds to current issues and concerns.
Embedded within this work is an important story as shared by Niningka Lewis:
In the roots of the tree, hidden inside it, is this story. First, it is about the abundance of the landscape which nurtures and sustains us. This part of the story is who we are, all the good things we have, and our rich history. You will see it is decorated with green leaves, yellow blossoms, and red fruits. I have included quandongs, desert raisins, and many other important bush foods that have sustained us since ancient times. Both the kangaroo and emu are sacred animals from these times. They’re holding onto a shield (tjara), which represents Australia. They are holding it up and protecting it from both sides. These animals and blossoms represent our Tjukurpa and our Nguraritja (sovereignty and traditional ownership), as well as the strength of our culture, health of people and animals, and the abundance of biodiversity. We are caretakers of this land, which is entirely Aboriginal land. We want it to remain a strong land and we want to remain strong people. As history and time has progressed, there are those who have not been able to benefit from everything that is good about life. Recently I have been deeply affected by the news of Anangu youths experiencing jail brutality. My heart breaks for these young men. They are our family members and our families are suffering. I wanted to use this work as a way of generating awareness around this, demanding that our people be treated with more respect. The symbols in this work are more deeply connected to Aboriginal people than anything else. We, the original people of the land, deserve to be respected and cared about. The future of our people lies in our young people. This Coat of Arms represents Aboriginal people in Australia, and rightful law and justice for all.