Q&A with Artist and Aboriginal Associate Emma Walke

Image Credit: Emma Walke

As part of preparing our Reconciliation Action Plan, ARTD commissioned Bundjalung woman, Academic, potter and artist Emma Walke to design an artwork. Emma also designed the artwork we use for our Aboriginal sector reports, which you will have seen used on our other blogs in NAIDOC Week. Her work on the new artwork coincided with Emma joining ARTD as an Aboriginal Associate to work on the APPRISE project, which looks into First Nations-led research on COVID-19. I ‘sat down’ over email with Emma to have a one on one chat about her story, her artistic process of creating our new design and what our work together in the future holds…

To start off Emma, who’s your mob?

I’m a Bundjalung woman and potter from Northern NSW and my family is from Cabbage Tree Island/Ballina area.

Can you tell us about the design you’ve created for ARTD?

My design shows a story of connection to country and people and the journey that ARTD has undertaken to connect with Aboriginal communities across Australia. The white lines are the passages taken, the community symbols of circles of dots are the three office areas, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.  The coloured dots relate to people, communities and projects that ARTD have completed and worked with over the years.  

Who are the artists or influences who inspire your creative work?

I have a few artists that inspire me – I have been lucky to have art in my life, my whole life. My mum and dad always connected us to art, mum is very creative.  If I had to name one it would be John Olson – his work is incredible and in real life is even more astounding, thought provoking and emotional. I also love Bronwyn Bancroft’s work, Irene Daley, would be a few to name.  There are so many incredible artists in the world – our choices are so big.

You’re not only an artist, but also an Academic – can you tell us about your professional background?

I have over 19 years’ experience in the Aboriginal and mainstream not-for-profit sectors. As Academic Lead for Aboriginal Health Education at the University Centre for Rural Health, University of Sydney based in Lismore, I work with medical and allied health university students to understand the history and its effects on Aboriginal peoples today, and to unpack their own individual identities, attitudes and behaviours in order to ensure the future health workforce can provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the best possible care.  

This year you’ve not only created an incredible artwork for ARTD’s Reconciliation Action Plan, but also joined us working on a project for Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies (APPRISE) looking at the First Nations-led COVID-19 research projects. Can you tell us a bit about your interest in this project and about working with ARTD?

Thanks for asking – I am really excited for the opportunity to be involved in the project. It’s a great opportunity to look at the ‘back end’ of grant application process, and I think it’s really cool that the APPRISE team is wanting to evaluate it and improve if possible.  I have had the opportunity to meet a few of the ARTD staff over the past few years through my work at conferences and for designing artwork for ARTD last year. It’s always been a great experience and so I feel lucky to have this opportunity. 

This was an amazing opportunity to reconnect with Emma during this wild year that 2020 has been and to touch base before starting to work together on the APPRISE project. As a young Aboriginal woman myself, Emma is an inspiration to me as her Aboriginal and rural health background align with my passions of Aboriginal health and nursing in community/ remote settings. I can’t wait to see what the future holds and what I will learn from her as she is truly an example of Aboriginal excellence in both the art and academic realms.

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