Indigenous Elder and renowned artist Aunty Shireen Malamoo recently had her thought-provoking work on display at a one-night-only exhibition at CQUniversity Townsville.
Aunty Shireen said her exhibition, Tell the Truth and we all grow up…, drew on the political and spiritual experiences of her life.
“I use my artwork
to educate young Indigenous people about my past,” Aunty Shireen said.
“My background is Aboriginal / South Sea Islander. The ancestors were brought over, during Australia’s slave trade when a lot of people were brought over to work with the sugar and then they bought in the White Australia policy and made them go home,” said Aunty Shireen.
“Women who were married to Aboriginal men were allowed to stay, or so that’s what I understand. My mother was married to my father, whose mother was a full-blood Aboriginal woman from the Burdekin.”
Aunty Shireen was raised strictly under the Pentecostal Church, in which her mother was very active; however Aunty was puzzled by some of its teachings from an early age.
“We were barred– Blacks were barred from the theatre and the swimming pools but [the Ministers] still talked profoundly on you going to Heaven, but ignored the reality around you,” said Aunty Shireen.
“I watched as a child – and I think it’s reflected in my work – they were isolated, but also unrepentant on their attitudes. It made for a very strict childhood. You didn’t drink, you didn’t smoke, you didn’t gamble, you didn’t do nothing … If you carried on, they’d say ‘get a whingeing pill’. We didn’t know that they didn’t have whingeing pills at the chemist.”
Aunty Shireen has dedicated her life to Aboriginal Affairs. She’s held positions as a Commissioner for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), in the Department of Social Security, NSW Parole Board, the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Media Association, the Aboriginal Medical Service and the Justice Health Board.
For Aunty, Art is just as important in the change-making process as anything else.
“It still comes back to community,” she said, expressing an intrinsic need to share her stories with others through her work.
“Over there, there’s ‘Spirit at the Well’. We came home one night late from Church and my dad spoke to her. He called her Amy, but it was a spirit and she disappeared.
“They would call it Puri Puri, it’s a name for black magic. It can’t be explained in spite of the whole thing with the Church. I still think about it today; I suppose it is with white and black struggles because it isn’t all just [Aboriginals]. it’s almost like a healing for Country too.
“Australia is a mighty country and we are a mighty people,” said Aunty Shireen.
“There’s much intermarriage with our mob, your mob. We’re a mighty people and we need to stand on our own feet, together. Aboriginal, Islander, white people, everybody. We’re one. There’s big potential here for us all and we must stand up as Australians.”
CQUniversity Creative Arts Lecturer, Rob Doran, who assisted in coordinating the event, said it was an honour to host the exhibition..
“Art is about sharing stories and Aunty Shireen is an exceptional woman who has a life that needs to be shared.”