Parliament House will come alive across three nights this NAIDOC Week with the shapes, colours and landscapes of Far North Queensland and Central Australia.
The illuminations, which will appear from Thursday to Saturday (6 to 8 July), are based on Kayannie Denigan’s ‘My Country’ artworks, which represent her links to the Kuku Yalanji beaches and rainforests of Cape York, Queensland, and the Luritja deserts of Central Australia. Kayannie, who works as an artist “on the side of being a normal human that works in an office” in far-flung Canberra, says it makes perfect sense to share her art locally.
“I really started my art practice after I moved to Canberra in 2015 because I was feeling like I was away from home [Cape York] and that connected me back to my home,” she explains.
Kayannie grew up between an Aboriginal community in Far North Queensland, Hope Vale and Cairns. She is connected to the Bagarrmuguwarra, Guugu Yimithirr and Kuku Yalanji people through her Nganjan (adopted father), to country at Buru, Starke and Yuku Budhuwigu and the communities of Hope Vale and Wujal Wujal.
“That was a really beautiful place to grow up, spending a lot of time at the beach, fishing and exploring all of the beautiful country around there,” she says.
Luritja by birth, Kayannie is also connected to Iltjitjari through her grandmother and Unturu through her great-grandmother in Central Australia.
The ‘My Country’ series combines these two very visually different parts of Kayannie’s identity, and it started after an ill-fated overseas trip around three years ago.
“In 2020, I was supposed to go to Europe for a trip away and then obviously COVID-19 happened and I took the opportunity to go to Central Australia,” Kayannie remembers.
“I was just amazed flying over my grandmother’s country in Central Australia at how stark the plants, sand dunes and rocks were, and the difference between them and Cape York.”
Kayannie’s style of painting exists in the space between the intense landscapes and distinctive dots and symbols of Central Australia and the rainforests, beaches and stories from Cape York.
“Those places are really far away from my home in Canberra, so I think it’s really lovely to share a part of my heritage, culture and experiences from both of those places,” she says.
“Canberra’s a lovely place. I feel really lucky to be able to live in this really beautiful city that’s surrounded by beautiful nature, and that’s also a bit of an inspiration to me.”
When Kayannie isn’t painting in the evenings or on the weekend, she’s busy working four days a week in the office job that brought her to Canberra.
Her advice to other artists doing the same? Although it can be tricky balancing two careers, you should stick with it if it’s bringing you joy.
“Just because you’re not a full-time artist doesn’t mean you’re not an artist and you’re not making beautiful things,” Kayannie says.
Parliament House will be illuminated from Thursday, 6 July, to Saturday, 8 July, from 6 pm to 10 pm. Kayannie will also host a free artist demonstration with a new painting she’s working on at Parliament House on Friday, 7 July, from 11 am to 1 pm. To find out more about these events or Kayannie’s art, visit Parliament House’s website or Kayannie’s website.