Why it’s so important that art on Qantas’ new planes is inspired by an Aboriginal painter

It’s often thought the Aboriginal people have a troubled – and some might say ignored – history in Australia, which is why it’s so positive to see indigenous art featured in a prominent position: Emblazoned on a Qantas plane.

Qantas is the flag carrier and biggest airline in Australia, and it’s launched a new aircraft featuring work inspired by the late artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Here’s everything you need to know about Kngwarreye, her work, and why this public exposure is such a great thing…

Who was Kngwarreye?

Kngwarreye was part of the Utopia community in the Northern Territory, and is one of the most important contemporary artists in Australia.

She was born in 1910, but it was only in her late 70s that she started painting. Despite a relatively short career – she died in her mid-80s – she was extremely prolific and widely acclaimed.

Whilst the traditional Aboriginal artistic technique was to use dots of the same size to make a pattern, Kngwarreye played around with this and used many different sizes to create her own style.

Common themes in her work included the landscapes of her home, as well as the yam plant, which was a major source of food in Utopia. This was even more significant for Kngwarreye, whose middle name “Kam[e]” refers to the seeds and flowers of the yam.

Why is this recognition of an Aboriginal artist so important?

(Qantas/PA)

British colonisation began in 1788. Many Aboriginals died as a result of the European diseases brought across and there was a gradual takeover of their lands for farms and settlement.

From the early 1900s to the late 1960s, the government took Aboriginal children away from their families and forced them to assimilate with the white community, either by being adopted into white families or placed in institutions. These children were known as the Stolen Generations, and the effects of these policies are still felt today.

Just think: It was only in 1962, when Kngwarreye was in her 50s, that she would have been eligible to vote.

Whilst Qantas’ move does not right historic wrongs, it’s a really positive step towards crediting the indigenous culture.

Qantas says: “[We] acknowledge the First Nations peoples of Australia as the continuing custodians and Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work”.

What about the artwork on the planes?

The livery of the new planes has been inspired by Kngwarreye’s 1991 painting Yam Dreaming, which is a proud representation of Kngwarreye’s home and way of life.

The art has been conceptualised by design studio Balarinji – an Aboriginal-owned agency.

(Qantas/PA)

The plane comes as part of Qantas’ Reconciliation Action Plan, where the company promotes indigenous culture and opportunity.

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