This is who we are, this is where we come from and where we are going, and we are holding the stories!
Christine Christophersen, Blue print 2006
Why is it that as Indigenous people in Australia we are always justifying ourselves, having to assert our legitimacy and affirm our human right to live within this society? A battle has been raging in this country for over 200 years; this is not only a battle, however, but also a generational war fought within us and outside of us. It is both personal and political. The war rages as we re-claim our land, reclaim our language and reclaim our identity. We are coerced into believing that all has been lost, all has been destroyed, and that our culture was static. But has it? Were they? Is it? Or have we been acculturated to such an extent that we put on our battle fatigues and step into the battleground to engage in a war that should not be fought? We should be jealously celebrating and defending the beauty of all that has endured: the continuity, ingenuity and strength of our culture and heritage, just as our ancestors have done for thousands of years. Christine Christophersen’s works challenge us to consider these questions.
In this exhibition are paintings by Christophersen that I refer to as her kinship series: a collection of paintings that speak to us of identity, belonging, and relationship to country and to each other. The nature of this relationship is based on respect, obligations, responsibilities and maintenance of cultural protocols. These cultural imperatives are important to Christophersen, as it defines who she is and her place within her community. As a mother and grandmother it is these principles that she passes on to the next generation, mindful that they will provide guidelines for the future. These principles are epitomised in her painting The past, the present, the future 2006.
Christine Christophersen first began to paint in 2000 after an intensive five-year period of political campaigning against Energy Resources of Australia’s Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park. She worked within the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, defending her mother’s country along with many other Mirrar/Murran clan members from the Western Arnhem Land region. Christophersen was imprisoned in Darwin’s Berrimah Gaol for twelve days for refusing to pay a fine for trespass on the Ranger lease, which ironically is on Aboriginal land, her mother’s country.
Painting gave Christophersen time and space to reassess who she was and where her place was, in the world and in her country; it allowed her to communicate with herself. Her art in this period was private; she never saw herself as an artist so she didn’t use a paint brush. Paint was applied with her hands; expressive and intimate. For Christophersen painting became her saving grace, as she discovered a new language with which to engage. Her commentary remains one of political protest, of contestation and reinforcement/reinstatement of culture, identity and connection to country.
For Christophersen, defending country is both a personal and professional responsibility. She is one of a handful of women painters making art in a male-dominated art-producing region and recognises that men and women have complementary roles to play in defending, communicating and maintaining cultural practice, through ceremony, social obligations and artistic expression.
Christine Christophersen displays her militant rank proudly as her art traverses the battleground; her defiance is legitimate: it is her birthright, handed down to her, her family and her clan over thousands of years – this is her Blue print.