Art, Culture, Country

Partnering with remote Indigenous Art Centres to deliver a landmark digital project that empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to create and share unique arts and cultural experiences with the world.


Art, Culture, Country

Partnering with remote Indigenous Art Centres to deliver a landmark digital project that empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to create and share unique arts and cultural experiences with the world.

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Kaiela Arts: Catalysts for Change, Collaboration and Creative Sovereignty

by Chloe Jones

Detail of Aunty Lyn Thorpe's work at Spacecraft studio, Melbourne. Photo by James Henry.

Victoria and Southeastern Australia are lands steeped in the complex tapestry of Indigenous histories and identities. These narratives, forged in the crucible of colonial devastation and contemporary cultural resurgence, tell tales of resilience and renewal. The Indigenous communities here navigate the scars of intense assimilation and the challenges of urbanisation, yet their spirit remains unbroken. Amidst this intricate backdrop, cultural sanctuaries like Kaiela Arts emerge as vital beacons, illuminating paths of cultural preservation and creative expression. 

Nestled in the heart of Shepparton on the sacred lands of the Yorta Yorta Nation in regional Victoria and recently relocated under the same roof as the local Shepparton Art Museum, Kaiela Arts stands as a beacon of resilience, collaboration, creativity, and cultural preservation. Established in 2006, this Aboriginal art centre is an artistic hub and a vital conduit for cultural exchange and community empowerment. As one of only two successfully established Indigenous art centres in Southeastern Australia, Kaiela Arts carries a unique responsibility to lead a movement that is as much about preserving history as it is about shaping the future. What distinguishes Kaiela Arts is its commitment to authenticity and accessibility. The centre’s innovative and grounded approach to business partnerships and educational relationships with the broader community has ensured strong and lasting connections.

As a member of Kaiela Arts and the Yorta Yorta community, I have always been inspired and proud of the centre’s relentless inquiry in embracing our identity as a local Yorta Yorta cultural cornerstone, preserving traditional practices and knowledge but also exploring the dynamics of collaborative engagement between other Indigenous groups and Non-Indigenous peoples within the community. Our commitment to unity is reflected in our continuous quest to devise strategies to embed protocols and culture in creative processes to honour our diverse community’s myriad voices, positionalities, and ways of knowing. We often ask ourselves: How can Kaiela acknowledge our shared presence and distinct identities? And how can we cultivate a vision of sovereignty favouring communal relationships and collective responsibility for kin, land, tradition, and innovation over capitalist ideals? Our mission transcends mere preservation; we are dedicated to seamlessly integrating the wisdom of the past with the vitality of the present through critical self-reflection and embracing challenging dialogues. 

Our artistic expressions, deeply intertwined with our cultural knowledge systems, serve as a wellspring of resilience in the face of profound displacement and loss of many of our ancestral homelands in an increasingly urbanised and fragmented landscape. Our art styles are distinguished by our dedication to South Eastern Aboriginal peoples’ traditional linear and X-ray styles. By integrating these traditional styles into our contemporary expressions through modern art-making techniques, our artists can make powerful statements about well-developed aesthetics and the visibility of a thriving contemporary Aboriginal culture. Through our art and spaces like Kaiela, we assert our cultural identity and continue to thrive, demonstrating that even amidst the degradation of ancestral lands, our traditions and knowledge remain vibrant and integral to our community.

Many of our artists believe that their artistic expressions are vital not only for education and cultural exchanges but also for reclaiming and healing their cultural identity. As one of our respected artists, Aunty Lyn Thorpe, poignantly states, “Doing all of this and creating these works is essentially strategic and critical thinking from a cultural lens, and this knowledge is medicine – gaining back that is healing – continuing to practise this knowledge or regain it is centred in healing.”

It seems only fitting that we remain focused on healing. The past few years have presented numerous challenges to Kaiela Arts, from the impacts of COVID-19 to the nationwide heartbreak felt by Indigenous communities following the recent referendum. Although, these adversities have only strengthened our resolve to create meaningful change. In response, we are more eager than ever to find innovative and sustainable ways to collaborate and thrive within our cultural spaces, turning obstacles into opportunities. Therefore, we eagerly anticipate our upcoming projects, enabling us to delve deeper into these creative processes. 

One particularly intriguing initiative is the KINnected camp, where our members will engage in immersive discussions to foster the development of our unique cultural frameworks. This initiative aims to forge stronger, more inclusive cultural strategies that honour traditions while addressing contemporary challenges. It may serve as a beacon for the broader sector. It showcases how community-driven projects can sustain cultural vitality and create culturally safe spaces for Indigenous knowledge systems and modern practices to intersect and flourish. The camp will testify to Kaiela’s commitment to cultural preservation and evolution.

Like most other art centres, our elders also play a crucial role in these processes, especially in healing practices. They are pillars within our sacred cultural spaces, embodying the innate ability to impart cultural knowledge that comes from a place of healing and trust. As creators, custodians, and guardians of historical wisdom, they serve as a bridge between epochs, invoking the spirit of their ancestors while addressing the urgencies of today’s world. Aunty Lyn Thorpe’s work represents an act of cultural resistance and renewal, intertwining the past and present. Through these respected community leaders, younger generations, including myself, inherit a living testament to our people’s enduring strength and resilience.

Aunty Lyn Thorpe at Spacecraft studio, Melbourne. Photo by James Henry.

Aunty Lyn Thorpe is a highly respected elder and artist with a keen ability to think critically and navigate different worlds. She continues to be a valued member of Kaiela, which is why we have chosen her as our featured artist for our return to the 2024 Darwin Art Fair. Aunty Lyn has collaborated with Spacecraft, a screenprinting studio in Melbourne, to create and produce new works for the fair. These pieces will make a powerful statement about Kaiela and our return to the big stage.

Aunty Lyn expressed: “These works represent our sense of being that is intertwined with Country, people and stories, which all nurture healing, pride, and strength.”

I am immensely proud of Kaiela Arts for our unwavering strength and steadfast commitment to upholding our local community’s cultural integrity while embracing the challenges of our environment. Like many Indigenous communities and cultural spaces in this nation, Kaiela has been compelled to adapt and remain resilient in the face of adversity. Nestled within an urban landscape, Kaiela contends with trials different from those of our brothers and sisters in remote art centres. Rather than resisting the oversaturated, Western-dominant environment that surrounds us, we choose to transform these challenges into opportunities for growth and empowerment.

Chloe Jones is a proud First Nations Yorta Yorta artist and freelance creative, and more recently an emerging writer and curator based in Naarm (Melbourne).

A Project by Agency

UPLANDS is an immersive digital project that has been designed to celebrate Indigenous Art Centres and share Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artistic and cultural practices with the world.

This large scale immersive digital mapping project features over twenty remote Indigenous Art Centres, and interviews with over 150 Indigenous artists and arts workers from across the country.

UPLANDS is a project by Agency and has been funded by the Australian Government through the Restart to Invest, Sustain and Expand (RISE) program and the Indigenous Visual Art Industry Support (IVAIS) program.




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Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Sovereign Custodians of the land on which we live and work. We extend our respects to their Ancestors and all First Nations peoples and Elders past, present, and future.