Michelle is a part-time gallery assistant at Jilamara, mother to three daughters and board member of ANKA (the peak body for Art Centres in the Top End). She is an executive committee member of Jilamara Arts & Crafts Association and was president in 2017 and 2018.
Michelle moved from Pirlangimpi to Milikapiti in the 1980s. She has worked in counselling support for Indigenous Health, Relationships Australia, the Red Cross and Menzies Health before joining Jilamara.
She started painting at Jilamara with her partner Nicholas Mario in 2012, whilst raising three young girls.
NORTH works to empower Indigenous artists and showcase Indigenous art throughout Australia. They work in collaboration with art galleries within Indigenous communities to create beautiful products: textiles, clothing, prints etc. Their products are community driven, ensuring all cultural standards are upheld.
Where did your passion for art come from?
Well, my passion for my art was because my late partner and sister were artists. I had this connection to art (because of them) and they supported me to be an artist. I also had family connections, through family passing down the stories. Hopefully, I pass this (passion) onto my children and my families and for the future generations – the next generation. Keeping it (art + culture) strong and alive.
I like looking at our family history through art, and the family connections through art, and ancestors and family like grandparents. I want to keep it alive and keep that culture strong for the next generation because our art and culture is really strong. We always use art, even through funeral and ceremonies.
What do you want to see in the future with art on Tiwi?
I want to see the next generation doing art. Before she left, my granddaughter was watching me (paint). She was asking (questions) and looking at the ochre. I tell them to do painting, too. My eldest granddaughter said when she goes back to school she will do art painting. Her mother’s side family is from Arnhem Land, and she is visiting. She said, “Nanna, when we come back I want to learn.” She always looking at me dong art painting, especially at home. They sit down with me.
And my grandsons, I want them to learn carving. When they come back (to Tiwi) I will get my grannies to look their uncle. He will to show them to do carving. He knows it.
Why were you interested in having your designs made into fashion with NORTH?
To connect with other art centres and other artists. To see how they collaborate with other art centres to show them our culture with (our) fabrics and all the design. Also, to show the outside world where we are and where we from (Tiwi).
How did you feel when you saw your art on the clothing?
I felt really proud of myself. I felt really proud! It was good that my art was in the collaboration with NORTH and the other artists. Also, showing my design with the other artists and people that don’t know about Tiwi (was nice), especially people all around Australia.
When I first started (making art) I had my mind focused on painting and design, it was my first time doing it on screen. I was lucky to have support from the art centre and NORTH.
What are your tips for anyone visiting the Tiwi Islands?
Hopefully we will have visitors, especially when the COVID is finished, they will visit the art centre to see our paintings and designs. It is sad we can’t have visitors right now because of COVID, but people (who come to Tiwi) should come to look at our beautiful artwork.
What do you love most about living on the Islands?
Well, the language and culture. (Here) We all speak the language and have the same culture. It is all in our heart, the Tiwi island. On Tiwi, I have lived on two communities. I have moved around the island. I feel good when the TO (traditional owners) welcome me, (they) make me feel at home here. My in-law’s country is here and my grandchildrens. I love living where I am now.
Tiwi Island will always be my home. I go to different communities for holiday and to go out on country. My next plan is to go out on country, on my country. I want to see other family to take me out on my homeland.
Where are your favourite places in Australia to travel to, eat at and enjoy?
I love Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide. I can’t go Melbourne now because of the COVID. But my favourite place is everywhere.
I like curry chicken, fried rice, chicken, spaghetti bolognese and pizza. I miss eating kangaroo tail, especially when I go Alice Springs. We have wallaby here, but not kangaroo.
My favourite (foods) is sea turtle, sea cow-dugon. We are surrounded by sea so we eat sea food a lot like, oyster, mud crab, and fish. We go fishing on the weekend for mud mussels, and them sea shells. That’s one of my favourite food, seafood. I am thinking about fishing this weekend. But one thing you got to watch out for crocodile. We have stingers but only in October.
Is there anything else you want to say?
I just want to thank NORTH for their love and support from me and thank you from the other ladies, too.