Raymond Walters Japanangka hopes to help young artists on a path of self-discovery
Geelong Advertiser, June 20, 2017
Raymond Walters Japanangka’s journey into the art world led him on the vital path of self-discovery. Not only did he learn a lot about himself through the craft, he also uncovered a great deal about his family, their past and his people’s history.
His career as an artist has led to many opportunities where he has been able to help tell the stories of his country. His artorks have not been limited to canvas either, he has created designs featured on jewellery, clothing and even Vodafone V8 Supercars.
His latest collaboration is through Red Dust Role Models in partnership with Coles supermarkets, with a line of reusable shopping bags. Money raised from the initiative goes toward helping Northern Territory communities.
After 13 years in the industry Raymond’s next mission is to help local young people to begin using art as a way uncovering more about where they come from.
“The most important part of the journey for me has been the one of self-discovery – I’d say that’s one of the most important journeys anyone can have in life,” says Raymond, 41.
“With young people there’s an opportunity for them at a younger age to start finding out more about themselves. As you get older you accumulate all these material things. When you get to about 30 – and I am using my own experience here – you start to think about what’s really important. It’s about knowing yourself and your family, and from an Aboriginal perspective, about your culture. But if you wait too long, then you lose the people who have that knowledge so it’s important to start having those conversations.”
Raymond’s true passion for art started about 13 years ago. It was a conversation he had with his aunty, where she encouraged him to share stories through art.
When he was much younger he used to believe to be an artist you had to be either an elder – someone who holds a lot of important songlines, which are told through art, or someone who has studied art at university.
“I didn’t really think that I could become an artist, but then was encouraged to share some of my stories and I guess that’s where it started,” Raymond admits.
“As a young person I didn’t really appreciate art like I do now. I look back on other artist’s careers and what’s been documented and I’m just amazed by where they’ve travelled the stories they’ve taken to the world.”
Raymond’s grandfather’s country is Ngarleyekwerlang near Yuendumu and his grandmother’s country is Alhalkerre, near Utopia – both near Alice Springs.
He says both grandparents come from the Anmatyerre language group and he also has extended family members from the Arrente, Western Aranda, Alywarre, Warlpiri and Kaytetye language groups. He is Greek from his father’s side.
In his art, Raymond says he is restricted to stories with creative landmarks from his grandmother and grandfather’s country. “They’re the stories that I’m restricted to so there’s a lot of things I don’t paint like kangaroos and that kind of thing, none of those stories involve creative landmarks from our country so I paint a lot about emus and bush tuckers and those kinds of things,” Raymond explains. “My culture is very important to me and I depict this through my art and stories. I understand the importance of telling the stories the same way I was told by my grandparents. The knowledge I continually gain, is passed on to me through Aboriginal ceremony, which is an important part of my life. Aboriginal law is a very important component of my identity as an Aboriginal man and gives me my place in my cultural land.”
Throughout his practising of art, Raymond discovered a lot of stories he was previously unaware of regarding his own family. He found out that one of his grandfathers was a part of the Stolen Generation after sitting down and painting with his uncle one day, where they started having conversations. He says he was truly shocked about what he learned.
“My grandfather was taken away when he was 14 years of age and he didn’t find the rest of his siblings until he was close to his 50s – so when I learned that story I was just blown away,” Raymond recalls.
“When I was a young person I had quite challenging behaviours and I was sent to that grandfather – who has now passed on – up on the Tiwi Islands near Darwin. I was always wondering, why am I going there, I am a desert person, I have no family there. I must have spent about two years with them then they sent me to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne for schooling. I always thought that he had chosen to leave and live there and get married and start a family. I never knew the true reason why he ended up on the Tiwi Islands, I just thought he wanted to live there. When I ended up finding out he wasn’t able to find his family for 40-odd years, it gave me more of a deeper appreciation of what the Stolen Generation went through.”
Raymond works for the Department of Education and engages with local students, schools and families. He has five children of his own – Samuel, 17, Zoe, 14, Kaitlyn, 11, Aleece, 4 and Charlie, 2. He and wife Naomi know the importance of sharing their family history and also want to help other young people enter the path of self-discovery.
“I’d love to use art in that way, to encourage young people to capture their stories but also learn more about their own families.”