Arkeria Rose Armstrong is one of Australia’s youngest Indigenous artists making waves in the art world with her powerful works, celebrating family and Country.
Writer: Paula Hubert – Photographer: David Field
When the Australian ambassador opened Arkeria Rose Armstrong’s first major exhibition at the Aboriginal Art Gallery in Rotterdam, he was so impressed that a young burgeoning artist could produce such insightful work. It certainly struck home.
“If you know Australia,” Ambassador Brett Mason said addressing the packed gallery, “then you’ll be able to look around this room and see all of it because this is exactly what it is like.”
Arkeria Rose admits that she was overwhelmed by the positive response to her exhibition Strong Connection which honours the Country she holds dear.
“People were very interested in our culture and they wanted to celebrate it. They wanted to know why you paint and how you paint. They wanted to understand every part of the story,” says the Gamilaraay artist who lives in Eaglehawk.
“I did an opening sand ceremony – that was my story of travelling and how I’d got to this point, settling in Bendigo. It gave people the opportunity to understand that every single painting is a different place and that’s my connection to it.”
Her venture into the art world wasn’t planned. The 28-year-old had recently graduated from La Trobe University Bendigo with a teaching degree when she was encouraged by an art buyer to exhibit at his Dutch gallery.
Arkeria Rose created the 30-piece collection while pregnant with her first child.
“I had to paint the bigger pieces first because I wouldn’t have been able to reach the centre of them by the end of the pregnancy. Otherwise we were going to have doughnut-shaped paintings,” she giggles.
Being pregnant brought a unique female quality to her work.
“It gave me a lot of reflecting time which I think was very special,” Arkeria Rose says.“Certain areas that I’ve painted have got a specific meaning to them or they’re a resting place. I did one on Wiluna and they have a carpet of wildflowers all over. I remember sitting there and it had that spiritual silence.
“It’s like sitting in a church. That’s what parts of the Country are like. They say that two Aboriginal elders walked out of nowhere and rested in that place. I painted that before I knew that story so it reinforced what I felt.”
Her connection to Country stems from a rather extraordinary childhood travelling around Australia…