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13 Best Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Creatives from Australia

At Shillington, we love to celebrate great design and share projects from creatives around the world. We’ve covered the work of many studios so far. Up next? We are celebrating some of our favourite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives from Australia. In writing this article, Shillington would like to acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and the traditional custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work. We pay our respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.

Australia is a beautiful and multicultural country with a vast Aboriginal cultural history. There are so many incredibly talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives working throughout the many countries that make up the Australian continent. The diversity of culture, practice and process is incredibly exciting and inspiring.  Read on to discover ten of the best Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives from Australia.

1. Blak Douglas 

Queen of Her Own Stage by Blak Douglas

Blak Douglas is a contemporary Aboriginal artist, whose studio is based in Sydney’s inner west. He is well known for the powerful graphic language of his paintings. Blak Douglas’ work inspects the violently charged and challenging history of conflict between colonial Australia and traditional custodians of the land, the Aboriginal people. He utilises a striking contemporary colour palette of bold, saturated hues and heavy black linework, while seamlessly employing intricate dot work and energising textural elements of cracked, spattered and textured paint which speak to traditional Aboriginal making practices. This painting, Queen of Her Own Stage, a portrait of the artist’s friend Ursula Yovich, was the winner of the 2019 Kilgour Prize for figurative and portrait paintings. Blak Douglas has described this portrait as being a metaphor of the female black voice and speaks to the need for black voices to be heard.

2. Gaawaa Miyay (Lucy Simpson)

Detail of Baayangali installation by Lucy Simpson of Gaawaa Miyay

Gaawaa Miyay is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Sydney. The company was founded in 2009 by Director and Principle Designer, Lucy Simpson. In collaboration with a GroupGSA, Gaawaa Miyay developed site specific and bespoke design elements to create a new workplace environment for the large energy provider, AusGrid. Cultivating a visual language which honoured and integrated Indigenous knowledge systems, the imagery of the final concept touches on the cycles of growth, energy and regeneration in nature. An element drawn out from the research centred on traditional fire-stick farming and care of country. The entire development, of which this mural is a part, is titled Baayangali, which in Yuwaalaraay means ‘the system in the natural world by which everything connects.’

3. Alick Tiopti

Alick is a world renowned artist who comes from Badu Island in the Torres Strait. In his work he uses traditional Melanesian patterns to translate and interpret images of his spiritual ancestors. His multidisciplinary practice is also multi-layered and he accompanies most of his works with traditional chants, songs and dance to create a rich depiction of the artistry and meaningful symbols of his people. Tiopti’s work has been featured in the Taba Naba – Australia, Oceania, Arts of the Sea People exhibition at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, in the form of an intricate rooftop installation—lending from his connection to the water-world that surrounds his homelands of the Torres Strait.

4. Charlotte Allingham

Mother. Grandmother. by Charlotte Allingham

Charlotte Allingham is an illustrator living in Naarm (Melbourne). Her illustrative work is known for its powerful black female figures, with themes ranging from modern subcultures, occultism and the First Nation’s futurism. Her work centres on her culture and identity as a Wiradjuri, Ngiyampaa woman and inspects the continuing impacts of Colonization in Australia. This digital illustration is titled Mother. Grandmother. and was created in 2019, as part of her ongoing illustrative practice. The continued title for this piece reads, “Mother. Grand mother. Ancestors. I know you, through my bloodlines, Through the soil. I know you. Mother. Grandmother. Ancestors.”

5. Ryan Presely

Detail of the currency from the Blood Money series by Ryan Presley

Brisbane-based artist Ryan Presely is a Marri Ngarr man born in Alice Springs. He is the creator of the ongoing project, ‘Blood Money’, which started in 2010. The long-running project incorporates large scale, detailed watercolour paintings alongside the interactive Blood Money Exchange, where participants can convert Australian Dollars for Blood Money currency. Rather than depicting mostly white settlers, Presley’s currency features portraits of the heroes and warriors of Indigenous history. The Australian Dollars raised from the Blood Money Exchange Terminals go to organisations supporting indigenous youth and education.

6.Tori-Jay Mordey

Embracing and openly sharing both her Torres Strait Islander and English heritage growing up, Tori-Jay now reflects this experience in her contemporary Indigenous art practice. Her illustrative work conceptually explores her own family, siblings and racial identity. She’s been featured as an artist on SBS web documentary K’GARI (2017), designed a car wrap for BMW during the Brisbane Street Art Festival (2021) and, over the years has been part of multiple exciting and dynamic creative collaborations.

7. Nicole Monks

Installation of flowers spelling out the word yes by Aboriginal designer and artist Nicole Monks

Redfern-based trans-disciplinary artist and designer Nicole Monks‘ practice is informed by her cross-cultural identity as a Yamatji Wajarri woman with Dutch and English heritage. With a conceptually-driven design practice, Monks’ work explores and promotes the narratives intrinsic to cross-cultural understanding and communication. This floral, graphic installation was created by Monks for the 2017 Casula Powerhouse exhibition, ‘Faith. The work explores the impact of the 1967 referendum in Australia and pays homage to Activist Faith Bandler AC, who worked at the forefront of the 1960s campaign to grant Australian citizenship rights to Indigenous people. These hard won and long-withheld citizenship rights were achieved through the historic Yes vote in the 1967 referendum.

8. Vernon Ah Kee

A lithograph titled unwritten by Vernon Ah Kee.

Artist Vernon Ah Kee was born in the small town of Innisfail in Far North Queensland and is a member of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples. Working and living in Brisbane, Ah Kee’s multi-disciplinary creative practice spans large scale representational and figurative drawings to politically-charged text-based works and installations. The delicacy and detail of his drawings belie a powerful current of critique working to expose degrees of underlying and overt racism in Australian society. Created as part of a suite of etchings, this 2011 lithograph titled ‘unwritten’ speaks to the experience of being an Aboriginal person in Australia.

9. Tony Albert

Crop Circles of Yogya by Tony Albert

Sydney-based, Townsville-born contemporary artist Tony Albert works across drawing, painting, photography and installation. Within these media Albert’s practice interrogates the intrinsic legacy of racism in Australia by foregrounding the kitsch and pop-cultural objects from the 1950s and 60s which utilise generic caricatures of Aboriginal people. While taking part in the former ‘Kerjasama (Collaborate)’ reciprocal exchange residency in 2017, Albert created the series ‘Crop Circles of Yogya’. The artist appropriated and decorated the conical hats of local farmers, transforming them into UFO hats. Photographs were taken of resident farmers wearing these newly embellished objects and the resulting photographs were hand-painted and decorated with well-known pop culture symbols and stickers. Self-staged as a visitor in the community, the artist explores the identity of the alien in foreign lands, while inspecting the influence of Western cultures on developing nations and vice versa. These works were completed at Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

10. Laurie Nona

Laurie is a print and etching artist who lives and works in Badu Island in the Torres Strait. All of his work shows his respect and deep connection to island culture, documenting the beautiful and complex relationships between humans, living creatures and nature in the islands. Nona’s work is held in a number of collections across Australia, including the Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Gallery of Australia.

11. Karla Dickens

Film still from 'Mother's Little Helpers' by Karla Dickens, featuring Bruce Pascoe, wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words Mother Earth Country.

Karla Dickens is a multi-disciplinary Wiradjuri artist based in Lismore. Her diverse practice is alive with her Aboriginality and a deep connection with country. In collaboration with Bruce Pascoe, the well known author of Dark Emu and a close knit group of First Nations adults and children, Dickens created a short-film titled, ‘Mother’s Little Helpers’ in 2019. The film features Bruce Pascoe (pictured above) walking silently through the films frames, followed and lead by a group of children. The film speaks to the deep concerns and importance of healing our Mother Earth, now more essential than ever given the environmental upheaval occurring with the Australian fires and drought. Dickens’ film was recently exhibited as part of the ‘Three Views‘ group exhibition curated by Djon Mundine OAM, in conjunction with Mosman Art Gallery. The show was installed inside the disused Armoured Casemates within the Georges Head military base in Mosman, a northern suburb of Sydney.

12. Gilimbaa

Campaign design by Gilimbaa studio for International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Gilimbaa is a Brisbane-based creative full-service creative agency. The name Gilimbaa comes from the language of the Wakka Wakka people of Central Queensland and means ‘today’. The presence and vitality of the designs coming out of this studio shows across the range of work they have created throughout private and governmental organisations. In celebration of International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019, Gilimbaa created an energetic and eye-catching campaign design for The State Library of Queensland. In response to the brief, the agency created a vibrant design to highlight the complexity and scope of Indigenous languages spoken throughout country.

13. Haus of Dizzy

Indigenous Pride Glitter earrings and accessories by Haus of Dizzy.

Kristy Dickinson is an Indigenous Jewellery Designer and the creative mastermind behind Haus of Dizzy, a Sydney-based company producing bold and playful jewellery with a strong message. These deadly Indigenous Pride Glitter earrings and accessories are part of the designer’s ongoing collection celebrating her pride and connection with her identity as an Indigenous Australian.

Want to see the full list of creatives around the world? The latest countries we covered in the series are Argentina, South Korea and Germany!

Feeling inspired? Check out our #ILoveTheseGuys series to discover more creative studios from around the world! Or become a graphic designer yourself—study design in three months full-time or nine months part-time in London, Manchester, New York, Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne with Shillington.

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