Art reflecting life
Saturday, 17th April, 2021
By Neil Pigot
Highly politicised, with public and stakeholder positions often dramatically polarised, indigenous issues are never far off the radar.
And it is a public space where the waters are constantly muddied by shifting social attitudes, loud voices and deaf ears.
It is little wonder then that questions surrounding validity and appropriation within indigenous art circles are also subject to strong opinions, with indigenous iconography fiercely protected by cultural gatekeepers both black and white.
Throw into that mix an apparently white, red-headed indigenous woman and you are adding a layer of complexity to an already highly nuanced world, a world that local indigenous artist Krystal Evans took some time to find her place in.
“The fact that it is so political, that put me off initially.
“I just didn’t feel like fighting that battle, particularly as a very white-looking woman. A part of me felt like I didn’t deserve it or that I couldn’t own it.”
But with all four of her grandparents full-blooded aboriginals, she is without question a Barkandji woman.
And although she spent most of her childhood and subsequently her adult life living away, the family would regularly come “home” for holidays, times she remembers as uncomplicated “fun, sun filled days spent with family.”
But her feelings toward the area she calls home became more complex as she entered adulthood.
“When I started coming back here and seeing family as a woman, I always felt very sad when I left and I didn’t really know how to place that.
“I used to cry in the car on the drive away and I wasn’t sure why.”
Prejudice was unfortunately part of the confusion.
Her father, also a white-looking red head, was fiercely proud of his indigenous heritage, never making a secret of the fact that he was a Barkandji man.
“We never hid the fact that we were a Koori family.”
And so despite the white looks, racist taunts were part of her childhood, and the prejudice went both ways.
“I’ve had some of my cousins say to me ‘why tick the box? You look white, why wouldn’t you just live your life as a white person?”
All of which meant that it took time for Krystal to come to terms with her own story.
“A few years ago I realised I wanted to be out here.
“I began to understand that the landscape is a very big thing for me.
“I love it artistically but I guess I didn’t always know that it was more than the way it looked.
“It’s only relatively recently that I began to realise just how connected I felt.”
That same awakening occurred within her creative practice, a practice that appropriates a variety of indigenous identifying markers and blends them with elements of her own lived experience. An approach that hasn’t been without controversy.
“I had an aboriginal artist tell me once I shouldn’t use dots and I had no right to use them.
“And I know that’s very controversial and people do think very strongly and protectively about their unique styles. They see it as a way to keep their culture whole.”
Hardly surprising, given that for many, indigenous culture can appear to be slipping away.
But for Krystal, there’s always been a natural progression of appropriation and evolution in all things and art is no different. And she sees the work she creates as a part of that evolution.
“There was a big colonial interruption and so things are obviously different.
“There are people on both sides that believe that at some point in history
aboriginal art should have just stopped
and stayed where it was but I don’t agree entirely with that.”
And the work Krystal has on display at the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery is a personal reflection on the evolution of the story of our First Nations people that has been undeniably altered since 1788.
A collage of indigenous iconography that is feminine, feminist and layered, much like the woman herself. A work she refers to as “Part of my creation story”, a story that is constantly evolving.
The work of Krystal Evans is part of Maari Ma Indigenous Art Awards on show at The Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery until April 25.