The Art of Reconciliation: Painting A Brighter Future

Australian Indigenous visual art represents 65,000 years of a living culture.

Spanning from rock art and body paintings all the way through to more contemporary styles embraced today, each work forms part of a rich, multi-faceted artistic genre.

Art is a powerful tool of communication, with Indigenous works in particular founded on a notion of sharing stories. It offers a reflection of culture and a direct insight into countless generations of tradition and heritage.

In a bid to further cultivate this connection, not-for-profit BlackRoo Co-Founder and Kamilaroi man, Steve Fordham, and Art Index founder, Sacha Clemens, have partnered on an endeavour they believe could help corporations enrich their workplaces and communities across Australia.

A pathway to understanding  

As National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week approaches, organisations are prompted to consider how they can show their support for Indigenous culture.  

Aiming to formalise these efforts are initiatives such as Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs), which offer businesses guidelines on how to develop relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Another program supported by major corporates is Raising The Bar, which helps to ensure that a percentage of an organisation’s funds support Indigenous businesses.

All companies can undertake their own RAP, which can be tailored to individual companies’ resources and where they are in their reconciliation journey.

Art Index is looking to expand its support of RAPs by being a conduit for organisations to access Indigenous art through the portfolio of works it manages on behalf of its clients.

Over its 13-year existence Art Index said it had forged strong relationships in the art world, including many with the artists themselves.

Art Index said this had allowed it to access the highest calibre Indigenous art in Australia, including works from the likes of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Gloria Tamerre Petyarre and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, among others.

The company said the showcasing of Indigenous artworks in a corporate environment could be a genuine way for organisations to cultivate connections and nurture a deeper understanding of Indigenous communities.

Mr Clemens said organisations ranging from the mining to finance industries could gain insights and understanding into Indigenous art’s significance as a movement. He said Art Index sought this educational element within the works it held to help impart this key principle of reconciliation to clients.

“It’s a very interesting art movement in that it was never supposed to be an art movement,” Mr Clemens said of Australian Indigenous art.

“It was more the anthropological scenario which just blossomed into this beautiful raw art movement that the whole world has recognised and will continue to recognise.”

Aside from their immediate aesthetic appeal, Mr Clemens said artworks in corporate workspaces could offer a point of conversation, elevate the ambience and demonstrate a tangible recognition of Indigenous culture.

Forging partnerships

As part of its strong commitment to Indigenous culture, Art Index has partnered with 29 -year-old Kamilaroi man Steve Fordham, the co-founder of Blackrock Industries and associated not-for-profit organisation BlackRoo.

Through this new partnership, Art Index and BlackRoo want to help businesses engage with Indigenous culture and put a portion of the art leasing costs back into the community from which the work came.

Mr Clemens said the initiative came into play through mutual association.

“I was always very aware of the Reconciliation Action Plan program and I just thought it was a great initiative to put beautiful Indigenous works upon corporate entities’ walls,” he said.

With the motto “No Hand-Outs! Only Hand-Ups”, BlackRoo was launched by Mr Fordham with “$20,00 and a little old tipper truck” in 2019.

Since then Mr Fordham has helped 75 formerly incarcerated indigenous men secure employment opportunities through BlackRoo’s “Second Chance for Change” program.

“Every time these pieces are leased out to an organisation, not only are the organisations getting a beautiful painting to hang in the foyer or a chance to share culture, they’re giving money to another organisation that’s actually going to put it back into those communities,” he explained.

Mr Fordham said it was not just non-Indigenous people who could gain greater understanding through a partnership such as the one he has with Art Index.

“We’re finding with a lot of community groups, particularly with our guys in the city, that they’re not with their roots any more so they’re not actually learning the artworks of their ancestors,” he said.

“Art should be appreciated – we want people to go into a corporate building and go ‘Wow that’s actually beautiful.'”

“We didn’t have books, our history was painted on the walls.”

A new way of giving

Stakeholders now have greater expectations about how companies should make tangible commitments to environmental, social and governance issues.

Mr Fordham said this was something he had observed while running BlackRoo and BlackRock Industries, maintaining that good working relationships between not-for-profits and corporates are fundamental for all Australians.

“We live in one of the richest countries in the world, but we are below the poverty line in our own way,” Mr Forham said.

“For us to be able to close the gap we need to partner with corporate entities that have access to markets and mechanisms to help create those capabilities.

“Our inmate program cost us $600,000 and we funded that ourselves. It was hard, but we had great clients that jumped onboard that supported us and gave us job opportunities.”

Referencing Art Index’s practice of social procurement, Mr Fordham said this opportunity was not only showcasing artworks but investing directly back into communities.

“All it is is about an opportunity and that’s what this is,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for a partnership, a progression and for changing the world.”

This article is sponsored by Art Index.

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