Contemporary Aboriginal Art Ryhia Dank, a Gudanji/Wakaja woman from the Barkly Tablelands.
I am Gudanji/Wakaja and I grew up in a remote community in the Northern Territory. I am also my dad’s daughter so I have English/Irish and Spanish/Austrian heritage and went surfing on the Gold Coast with my paternal grandparents at holiday time too. It is all important, it has all contributed to who I am.
Growing up in the Gulf of Carpentaria meant I got to know my Country through the stories my family told me and I got to walk in the places and footprints my family has travelled since the beginning. And I didn’t have to worry about the authenticity of my identity... until I moved away.
My first job was as a zoo keeper where I worked with crocodiles. It was familiar because I’d sat with my grannies in Borroloola and heard their stories and learned from them. I then trained to be a croupier and enjoyed that until my mum reminded me too many times, it was not the Methodist way so I moved to Melbourne.
Melbourne was so different from Borroloola and Darwin and I loved it. I worked several jobs the way most people seem to do as I put myself through design school. After nine years in Melbourne, I worked myself into a national marketing role. Then we had a pandemic. I was in the Northern Territory and couldn’t get back to Melbourne. So I painted.
My painting is storywork. Gudanji/Wakaja people told stories through pattern and design and that is what I am doing. I call my storying Nardurna. It means woman in my language. For Gudanji, our big story is about three women who came from the ocean near Ngukurr in the Gulf of Carpentaria. They travelled a long way and then created our place, the hills and fresh water Country. I am linked to that story and it links me to my place because as my granny said,
Ngurruwani Gudanji-marndi maga guda gurijba iligirra gamamjani
(Gudanji people are from the fresh water and hill country)
The three lines on my brand are to acknowledge those three women who made our place and then made us, I use colours from a range of palettes to reflect who I am. My name is Ryhia Dank I am a contemporary Aboriginal woman who grew up in a remote community and lives in modern Australia. My skin colour does not define me rather, my history, family and our experiences inform my identity.