‘It’s about taking charge of representation – I find that painting is a very simple and direct way of communicating things that I want to say.’
Thea Anamara Perkins is an Arrernte and Kalkadoon artist whose practice incorporates portraiture and landscape to depict authentic representations of First Nations peoples and Country. With a delicate hand, Thea answers heavy questions about what it means to be Indigenous in contemporary Australia, and how Aboriginal people can and should be portrayed.
Thea’s Arrernte name Anamara describes a river and a Dreaming that runs north of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) – the place that keeps calling her back and has been the wellspring of art and activism for her family, and by extension, the nation. Perkins continues her family’s commitment to what she calls “strong and ready communication” and is part of an extraordinary dynasty of First Nations activists and creatives that includes activist Charles Perkins (her grandfather), Arrernte elder Hetti Perkins (her great-grandmother), curator Hetti Perkins (her mother) and acclaimed film director Rachel Perkins (her aunt).
Perkins routinely delves into her family’s photographic archive for source material, attracted by the hyper-saturated, almost cinematic, glow of old photos, and the melancholia that comes with seeing a moment in time you can no longer access. She is most drawn to snapshots that evoke feelings of comfort and certainty – smiling faces, happy memories. The glimmer, she calls it. Her compositions hone in on this by removing the background noise, reducing the photo to its very essence – a gesture, a colour, or an evocation of place.
Raised and based in Sydney, Thea has family ties to the Redfern community. She has worked in a broad range of community projects and is also an active member of Seed, Australia’s first Indigenous youth-led climate network. Thea won the Alice Prize & Dreaming Award in 2020 and the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 2021.