Regional exhibition tells a story that must be told

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By Melissa Keogh

For many years Aboriginal woman Kunyi June Anne McInerney has picked up a paint brush as a way to reflect on her past and share her life experiences of being a member of the Stolen Generations.

Moments of separation, struggles but also joy are reflected in her most recent collection of artwork that has set off on a two-year touring exhibition across regional South Australia.

Launched at the Port Pirie Regional Art Gallery last week and presented by Country Arts SA, the exhibition My Paintings Speak For Me will be shared in galleries across the state, from as far west as Port Lincoln to as far east as Bordertown.

“These are my stories from a dry, remote place where my experiences were so different from what Australian children know today. These are not fairy tales, they are true,” Kunyi says.

“I want people to understand what happened. Painting is the best way for me to tell my stories.”

Curator Maggie Fletcher, left, with artist Kunyi June Anne McInerney at the exhibition opening in Port Pirie.

In 1955 at the age of four, Kunyi was taken from her mother Daisy, a Yankunytjatjara woman, and placed in the Oondnadatta Children’s Home.

She was one of many Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children torn from their families and raised in institutions or adopted into foster families between the 1900s and 1960s.

But from the struggles, Kunyi has created beauty in the form of art; vibrant colours used to depict the rich, burnt orange earth of the outback, reflecting on memories of both sorrow and joy. She says she found comfort in painting and drawing as a child.

“Every Sunday in the missionary we did artwork and learnt something different, and I just went to another planet,” Kunyi says.

“We were always in a good mood then, we were always helping each other out and it was really exciting to see what the others would come up with. In primary school the teachers said I was the best in the class.”

Kunyi now lives at Henley Beach and has three adult children. Aside from being a much-exhibited artist whose works are appreciated not only in Australia but also overseas, she is also a published book illustrator.

The paintings and stories for My Paintings Speak For Me have been collated by curator Maggie Fletcher, with Country Arts SA also commissioning an artist video to run alongside the exhibition.

Kunyi June Anne McInerney, Sunday Service, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 61×91 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

“We are delighted to present this brand new exhibition that provides insight into a dark and often forgotten time in Australian history that has an ongoing impact today,” says Country Arts SA CEO Steve Saffell.

“There’s a lot of sadness but also joy in Kunyi’s exquisite representation of her childhood memories in the mission home. Parts of her story will literally come to life before your eyes in an animated video we have commissioned to complement her work.”

The collection of Kunyi’s work was first exhibited at the Migration Museum in Adelaide earlier this year. It will be shown in Port Pirie until January 13, 2019, before heading to Murray Bridge, Goolwa, Hahndorf, Roxby Downs, Port Lincoln, Port Augusta, Millicent, Tailem Bend, Balaklava, Moonta, the Barossa Valley, Kapunda, Burra and Bordertown.

For more information on dates and locations visit the Country Arts SA website.

Header image: Kunyi June Anne McInerney, Mission Buildings with Dining Area, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 61×91 cm. On loan from the Migration Museum, a division of the History Trust of South Australia, image courtesy of the artist.

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