Tiny banded kelp shells, pipis and seaweed beads speak to 32-year-old Krystal Hurst, a proud Worimi woman and jewellery designer, painter and print-maker who now makes Ngunnawal country home.
Krystal spent many peaceful hours walking beautiful sandy beaches collecting the materials for a one-off, handmade, statement necklace measuring 50cm wide by 30cm deep. Her efforts have paid off and Krystal is a finalist in the 2020 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Awards (NATSIAA) for her creation. She is the only ACT artist selected to be a finalist in this year’s awards.
“Creating gives me a sense of freedom and connection to our culture and ancestors,” says Krystal. “I’m inspired by country, memories and stories.”
The awards, now in its 27th year, showcases the best in Australian Indigenous contemporary art, celebrating artists telling their stories in unique ways who reinvent traditional form and materials.
Krystal collected hundreds of banded kelp shells, making sure each was perfect for her jewellery piece. A continuous thread of shells, pipis and seaweed beads, the necklace represents Krystal’s connection to Saltwater country, memories of growing up on the NSW Mid North Coast, and her relationship with the ocean.
The necklace is a tribute to Krystal’s mother, grandmothers and many ancestors before.
“In designing and making the piece, I imagined the type of adornment they wore to feel strong and proud, to tell our mob who they were and who they were connected to,” says Krystal. “The layered pipi shells, which we call bitjagang, represent the generations of strong and passionate Worimi women and the continuation of their knowledge and strength.”
Threading the shells with seaweed beads – Neptune’s necklace – symbolises an enduring connection to the sea. Krystal also used fishing line to represent how the Worimi people have adapted during different phases of colonisation.
“I hope my jewellery will start conversations about our culture and community issues,” says Krystal. “I want those people wearing my pieces to feel empowered and proud they’re wearing something that is Indigenous.”< Krystal, who pops up in this month’s Marie Claire magazine as an “artist to know now”, uses many other natural materials for her creative work, including emu feathers, echidna quills, raffia, native seeds and bamboo.
It’s no surprise that creativity runs through Krystal’s veins. She grew up surrounded by arts and culture, and describes her dad, who taught her to paint and draw, as her “art hero”.
Krystal arrived in Canberra to study cultural heritage and environmental science at university and ended up settling here.
In addition to being a practicing artist, Krystal is creative director of Gillawarra Arts, which originated in the 1980s in the NSW Mid North Coast. Since coming into the role, Krystal has rebranded the creative arts business as being more contemporary.
“Our vision is to create jewellery for women and men to feel strength, connected and empowered,” says Krystal. “Our pieces speak of the sky, land, rivers and sea. Our jewellery sings our memories, language and our culture that is strong and thriving.”
It’s been a busy past 12 months for Krystal.
In 2019, she entered NATSIAA for the first time and was named a finalist. In the same year, she was also an ACT Indigenous Business finalist. This year, she facilitated her first weaving workshop at the National Gallery of Australia and conducted Aboriginal jewellery workshops at the National Museum of Australia.
She also presented work at Firstdraft gallery in Sydney and the Emerging Contemporaries Exhibition at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre in Canberra.
The Telstra NATSIAA exhibition runs from 8 August, 2020 until 31 January, 2021 at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin. NATSIAA winners will be announced on 7 August, 2020.