‘Jingalu’ Melissa Craig’s compelling and powerful contemporary artworks currently adorn the walls at the Art Space Urunga for the annual NAIDOC exhibition. NAIDOC’s message for 2021 is “Heal Country, Heal our Nation”, a theme shared by this year’s exhibition.
Jingalu is an award-winning artist, who traces her Aboriginal heritage to the Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl people in northern NSW.
“For Aboriginal people, country is a huge part of your identity. It’s your clan group. Your family. It’s a sense of connection that simply can’t be explained,” says Jingalu.
Jingalu, how important is the message ‘Heal Country, Heal Our Nation’?
Indigenous people of Australia already have a deep connection and passion for country, even though we have suffered displacement from our homes, land, family and culture. Our ancestors have looked after and protected country for thousands of years. If anything, I see this as a message for non-indigenous people that just take and keep taking from this land. That’s why we have totems and sacred places- to protect them. Gumbayggirr totem is the ocean. So, we protect the ocean and everything that needs it for survival.
Imagine if Rio Tinto blew up Stone Henge, Uluru or the pyramids, well that’s what it was like for the custodians of that land. It was truly devastating. I don’t understand how they think they can just keep taking without any consequences. They don’t care, it’s just greed.
As a Gumbaynggirr woman, how important is Country to your cultural identity?
Country is a huge part of your identity. It’s your clan group. Your family. It’s a sense of connection that simply can’t be explained. As a young adult I spent a lot of time living and working in the cities and overseas as they didn’t have the internet and social media didn’t exist back then, so it was the old school way of getting your name known in the art circles. After many years off country, I came home and I’ll never move off country again.
Do you feel this exhibition and similar exhibitions can educate the whole population about the importance of recognising and protecting indigenous culture and heritage?
I hope so. The Art Space at Urunga are a great bunch of creatives. They hold this exhibition every year for us locals and I totally take my hat off to these people, who are so open-minded and passionate about conveying our messages. I’m very grateful, they do an excellent exhibition.
Can you describe your artwork?
My art is labelled Contemporary Aboriginal art. I just call it story-telling through paintings. It’s important as a contemporary Aboriginal artist to create your own style. Over the years people can now recognise my work before they see the name. My design, pattern and techniques have been taught in schools around Australia. I like to tell stories in my work of my family’s history and about our culture in order to educate people. It also keeps the stories I was told growing up fresh in mind. I paint with Permaplastik acrylic display paint, this paint I can use on any surface, Canvas, murals anything. It’s a great versatile paint.
You are a highly acclaimed artist. What opportunities has your career afforded you?
I have had many great experiences throughout my career. Apart from the freedoms that painting has given me, it has also provided me with a variety of jobs. Every art job is uniquely different. My career has taken my family and I overseas.
Of all the jobs I’ve been lucky enough to do over the years, I’m most proud of the work I’ve done for hospitals and the Children’s Medical Research Charity Jeans for Genes, for which I’ve raised $80,000. I’ve been involved with them for more than 20 years. I’m also very proud that my local hospital has printed my artwork onto the birthing cards for the newborn babies, that are issued to every family.
Many of your artworks reflect dreamtime stories. Can you explain how important the dreamtime stories are to you and how you then reflect and interpret these stories through your art?
Dreamtime stories are very sacred to me. In my art, I create condensed versions of the dreamtime stories I was told growing up, but I pass the full stories on to my kids so they will be able to pass them on to their kids.