South Australian artist Alison Riley’s painting ‘Seven Sisters’ was the people’s choice at the 28th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA) and it’s an honour that makes her proud and happy.
“My family is also very happy for me and that means a lot to me,” Mrs Riley says.
Alison comes from the community of Amata, in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in South Australia. Her winning painting is a Tjukurpa story (creation story) about the constellations of Pleiades and Orion. The sisters are the constellation of Pleiades, and the other star, Orion, is said to be Nyiru or Nyirunya (described as a bad man). Nyiru is forever chasing the sisters as it is said he wants to marry the eldest sister.
“The painting is about my grandfather’s Country and the Wanampi (water snake) and about the Seven Sisters. It’s a dreaming story,” Mrs Riley says.
The ‘Seven Sisters’ is one of four works from the NATSIAA that will be permanently part of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory’s (MAGNT) collection in Darwin.
Mrs Riley has been painting since the 1980s. “I started off with batik and screenprinting when I was in school, and I also loved drawing pictures and the colours. I came to paint at Tjala Arts in 2006,” she says.
“I paint about the Country, and the stories. I love to design patterns and think about the colours.
“Painting keeps our culture strong and allows us to pass our stories down from generation to generation.”
An important part of her journey as an artist is the conception of a painting.
“I’m constantly thinking of the colours and what country and stories will suit those colours.”
Much of Mrs Riley’s work at Tjala Arts is collaborating on paintings with her family.
“I learned to paint from my mother and my aunty. When I was doing my painting for the Telstra Art Award, my daughter and sons were looking at me paint and learning from me. I’m currently working on a painting of a tree with my aunty. I love painting with my family,” Mrs Riley says.
Mrs Riley grew up at Pukatja, also known as Ernabella, where she lived and went to school before she and her family moved to Amata around 1990. While school provided an introduction to art, she then painted at Ernabella Arts Inc. in Pukatja before joining Tjala Arts.
She will paint another painting for the next Telstra art award. “I’m thinking about it (the painting),” she says.