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Vibrant Aboriginal artwork revealed at Ngunnawal Centre

Elly Mackay

13 July 2021: A vibrant piece of Aboriginal art was unveiled today at the University of Canberra’s Ngunnawal Centre, painted by renowned artist Jenni Kemarre Martiniello last week as part of NAIDOC Week activities across the campus.

The artwork is the first to be painted on the structural pillars outside the centre, with the intention of the project to have a pillar painted each year during NAIDOC Week. This year’s art is inspired by the NAIDOC Week theme of ‘Heal Country’.

The theme is a call to action to continue to seek greater protections for lands, waters, sacred sites and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction.

Ms Martiniello’s work reflects those themes, and spans three dimensions: land, water, and sky.

“I have a long connection with the University of Canberra, 30 years ago I actually used to teach here, and it’s been a very long and fruitful association since then,” Ms Martiniello said.

“It’s my pleasure to have been asked to do this work, it’s a great privilege – and a great challenge, I must say!”

She painted interconnecting threads from the top to the bottom of the pillar, which represent the reciprocal relationship between the physical and material worlds.

“When we say ‘always was, always will be’, it’s because as long as the universe and the Milky Way exist, we exist,” Ms Martiniello said.

The main motif within the artwork is the Ancestral Terrain Hand, which Ms Martiniello said “refers to the traditional concept that we know our land like we know the palm of our hand”.

Ms Martiniello is an Arrernte woman who founded the ACT’s first independent Aboriginal-run social enterprise – Kemarre Arts. She also co-founded the Indigenous Textiles and Glass Artists (ITAG) organisation.

She has been awarded the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, and her work is featured in several major art collections, including at the National Gallery of Australia and the National Museum of Australia.

University of Canberra Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Professor Peter Radoll thanked Ms Martiniello for the thought and creativity she put into the piece.

“I’ve been looking forward to the unveiling of this piece – the first in what I hope will be a long-running series, that will be added to each year,” Professor Radoll said.