By Meg Hill
“I’ve always used art in a political way,” artist Clinton Naina told CBD News. In December, Clinton was awarded the Koorie Art Show’s top prize for his work Landfill.
The work is on exhibition at the Koorie Heritage Trust until February 21.
“It’s a way of telling a story or exposing things that need to be thought about. Art can tell a political story as well as being political in and of itself,” Clinton continued.
Clinton made Landfill out of domestic bleach and cotton. The artwork, a depiction of and commentary on societal waste, was made during Melbourne’s lockdown. Surgical masks are depicted alongside a plastic bag.
“It’s commenting on the waste that society uses that is filling our land. There’s better ways of using or reusing these materials and we should be looking at ways to recycle and making sure we’re not polluting the land because it’s all we have,” he said.
Reflecting on societal waste during the pandemic, Clinton said he saw the two phenomena as connected: there is sickness and illness all around the world, and we’re chopping down the forests that protect us from germs and disease.
“I think every time we chop down a tree or a forest or another creature dies, we’re getting closer to destroying ourselves,” he said.
He’s has been exhibiting his art since he was a teenager, but he’s been politically active even longer.
“My mother was Eleanor Harding, a political activist and community service worker. She was from the Torres Strait Islands, her lineage descends from Meriam Mer people of the Eastern Torres Strait and the Ku-Ku people of north-west Cape York,” he said.
“I was taken as a newborn to my first Aboriginal land rights protest when I was one month old – to the first Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra on Australia Day 1972.”
“That was the start of my political awareness of my people’s ongoing struggle to survive.”
He said art was a way of exposing things that needed to be thought about.
“I’ve particularly always looked at the politics of the environment, animal welfare, the Torres Strait Islander people, land, mining – land is entwined with everything else in Torres Strait Island culture, it’s not separate like in Western culture,” he said.
In a way, Clinton said he felt responsibility to depict those things in his art: “We’re not the only ones here anymore, so we have to teach the people living on the land how to look after it,” he said.
“So, it was my responsibility in a way not just to be an artist but to do work that can shed light on those things and help the situations that we’re in.”
The 8th Koorie Art Show is open to the public Sunday, February 21 at the Koorie Heritage Trust, Yarra Building, Federation Square. Entry is free.