The stories behind the art: Karen Shuan


Karlie Brady


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Artist Karen Shuan holding her artwork; Land (Yalanji), Acrylic on linen canvas, 76x101cm, 2019. Image: Karlie Brady.

Art is an essential way for Australia’s Aboriginal people to tell their stories passing them on through the generations and for a small group of artists in the Mossman Gorge Community this is particularly true.

As Newsport continues to follow the stories behind the art of artists at Mossman’s Bamanga Bubu Ngadimunku (BBN) Aboriginal Corporation's, Yalanji Arts, we turn the spotlight to Karen Shuan.

Ms Shuan is a third-generation traditional custodian of the Kuku Yalanji people and was born and bred in the region.

She said she grew up learning the Kuku Yalanji language along with traditional cultural dancing and art from her grandfather, uncles, and her mother.

“I grew up listening to elders around the campfire learning the ways of life. I respect my elders now by speaking the language and also continue performing and sharing culture to next generation,” she said

“I do different styles of art to represent the Kuku Yalanji country that extends from Port Douglas to Cooktown.

“The images I often paint are the animals in the rainforest as we are the rainforest people.”

Ms Shuan said her art helps pass cultural messages from one generation to the next, not just for Indigenous people but also exposes non-Indigenous people to the important culture as well.

“Never forget who you are or where you come from and the colour of your skin does not change you. We are the image of our ancestors here before us and we are the generation that must continue that journey,” she said. 

The painting Ms Shuan is holding in the picture above is called Land (Yalanji) and she said it depicts how the Kuku Yalanji people survive off the land.

“Many thousands of years ago, at the time of the Dreaming, our ancestors taught us, the Kuku Yalanji Bama (people), how to live with the land and respect it.

“It (the painting) is to say that we never forget who we are, it shows the resources of our country and how it provides for us.

“These animals were our resources, for food and much more. They are our tradition, our culture, our law, our art, our dance. They are also totems,” Ms Shuan said.

Stay tuned for more Yalanji artists stories to follow.

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