3 Australian First Nations artists on truth-telling through their work

Alexia Petsinis, Vogue Living, 28 Jul 2021

Thea Anamara Perkins’s practice embraces an inherently political overtone that unites art and activism. Perkins’s NATSIAA work is a portrait of her grandfather, Aboriginal rights pioneer Charlie Perkins. Spirited and irreverent, the painting sees the artist examine Western vernacular and portraiture conventions in seeking to “take charge of representation”.


“I think one of the greatest powers of art is communication, allowing us to understand one another,” Thea told Vogue Living. “This is also part of activism, bringing an issue to light and demanding change. I think my work has an inherent politic as an Aboriginal woman. My art is a forum for my voice.


At 29, Thea has already won the Australia Council’s Dreaming Award, as well as being an Archibald Prize 2021 finalist. She has always felt a strong compulsion to paint portraits, particularly if she is drawn to a photograph whose subject possesses a certain sense of magnetism. The portrait of her grandfather exemplifies her fearless colour palette, and her mastery of light and shadow through which she captures multiple emotions in the face she paints.


“Painting a portrait is an exercise in negotiating memory and your perception of a person, and the further challenge of capturing it on the picture plane,” Thea says.