I’m a keen student of the human condition in all its manifestations, and one of the most fascinating is the way we navigate our way through life, charting a course between safety and danger. We take risks, all the time. Without risk, there would be no adventure, no invention, and, quite possibly, no fun. But we all have a deep need to feel safe, and we devise all manner of ways to keep ourselves from harm, from danger.
For generations, the Yidinji indigenous people of far north Queensland used beautifully made wooden shields to add an element of safety to their lives. The Yidinji belong to the country in and around Cairns. When Europeans came to this part of the world, they brought with them a weapon those shields could not block or deflect – guns. Bullets went right through them and felled their bearers in a way that, at least initially, defied their understanding.
It is those often deadly encounters that shape a story being explored by indigenous artist Paul Bong, in etchings now being produced in Cairns. Paul is a Yidinji man, who is exploring the story of those shields, depicting them in breath-taking detail in prints from etchings he’s making at Theo Tremblay’s print workshop. The shields depicted in this series of prints have all the rich texture and colour of the wooden shields that inspired the works, but they’re fractured and damaged, perhaps by conflict, or the passage of time. By depicting them in this way, Paul says he’s finding ways to heal the damage to his people, his culture, and to take that culture into the future.
Paul is clearly an artist of great talent, and a really engaging story teller. I encourage you to listen to my interview with Paul.