Yarrabah’s Elverina Johnson is the 2017 National NAIDOC Artist of the Year
Singer, songwriter, playwright, actor, photographer and artist are just some of the artistic forms that Elverina Johnson has worked in to preserve the creative spirit of Indigenous Australians. One of our country’s most respected artists, her selection as the 2017 National NAIDOC Artist of the Year is due recognition of her extraordinary career.
Elverina, a Kunganji woman from Yarrabah in far north Queensland, has been involved in the arts for over thirty years and while she says that song writing is her first love, she doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into a specific variety of the arts.
“Art can mean many different things to different artists,” Elverina said.
“And what is an artist? I’ve been in the creative industry for over 30 years; acting, writing, curating and the visual arts. I don’t concentrate on particular forms of art but think of how I can best express each idea.”
One of Elverina’s most prominent artistic legacies is her rediscovery of the long and remarkable history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brass bands. The play she wrote about the brass bands, Blow ‘im, had a five year tour around Queensland schools. The play led to a revival of brass bands in Yarrabah, which Elverina is cultivating through the launch and organisation of the Yarrabah Brass Band Festival.
Elverina points out that there is a stereotype in the wider community about what constitutes “authentic Aboriginal art”, which needs to be changed.
“Different communities have different traditions of art. Yarrabah has the rainforest and ocean so we paint lines, foods like fish and the objects that play a large part in our lives,” Elverina said.
“It’s important for us to use whatever mediums we want to express ourselves. We can tell a story about a massacre through song and people will sit up and take notice, rather than be confronted by it.
“Art is a great way to bring about positive change.”