NAIDOC WEEK 2020: The story behind the painting

Monday, 2 November, 2020

To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2020, we are highlighting the importance of artwork in Indigenous culture by exploring the unique Aboriginal artwork created by artist Jeremy Donovan. 
 

The artist descends from the Kuku-Yalanji tribe of far Northern Queensland and has artwork in galleries around the world. Jeremy is also a celebrated keynote speaker, storyteller, and performer. We sat down with Jeremy to hear the story behind the artwork he created for a limited-edition NESCAFÉ BLEND 43 coffee tin and NESCAFÉ BLEND 43 stickpacks.

The Story of an artwork 

Story is an important part of Aboriginal culture. It is used to teach lessons, history, and culture. Jeremy said, “For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, story is how our culture is kept alive. Our language, our system of law, our society. In the building of a foundation for a painting, story is so critical because it becomes the basis of what you create.”

He explains that artists can’t create whatever they want. Their artwork needs to be directly attached to the artist’s family, and that “families have a cultural responsibility to certain aspects of our traditional law.”                    
 

About Jeremy’s art

Jeremy says he doesn’t know what a painting is going to look like until it’s finished. He doesn’t sketch it out beforehand, and sometimes paints the background over and over again, layering and redoing it as many as ten times. When people ask him why he puts so much work into a background that will get covered up, he says it’s because the foundation of the painting helps to build the direction of where the art goes. “I don’t have any idea about where that final dot is going to fall or where the first dot is going to begin. I don’t have an image at all in my mind about what the painting is going to look like. It really is a blank canvas. And that blank canvas will become a painting through the means that I use of connecting to culture and telling a story.”

The Poem behind the NESCAFÉ artwork

Before he started to paint, Jeremy wrote a poem. It ties into NESCAFÉ’s tagline “It all starts with” and was inspired by his memories of sitting around a campfire drinking coffee in the early morning hours with his grandparents and family.


There’s nothing more sacred than the sun’s first kiss
The warmth, the steam, the flavour
It all starts with this…

I long for the memories of the time with you
Your wisdom is captured in everything that I do
It’s the song and the sound of the land that I seem to miss
But the memories live, when it all starts with this…

Empty tins were priceless on the land
They kept things clean not covered in sand
Unforgettable aroma that will never fade away
Anything valuable would live in the tin, hidden and stored away

If we were crossing the rivers, those tins would always be near
Empty tins were almost as valuable as our hunting spear
The tins kept memories that are etched into my heart
And this is how every day should start…

 

More about the NESCAFÉ tin

When Jeremy was creating the artwork for NESCAFÉ, he knew that he needed to incorporate the sunrise which was an imperative aspect of his family’s story. The sunrise was placed into the story of the coffee tin because of the nostalgic memories Jeremy has of drinking coffee around the fire in the morning with his family as they were preparing to go out and muster cattle for the day. “I was able to bring up a traditional story of the sunrise, which is a direct obligation or responsibility to my family, and then place it into a piece of artwork that could be contextualised into what I was building or capturing for NESCAFÉ.”

The colours were specifically chosen to reflect the environment. The reds, oranges, and yellows connect to Jeremy’s memories of the sunrise across the land and rolling hills. The blue represents the river running through Gympie, the Queensland town where NESCAFÉ coffee is roasted and blended. These rich earth tones of the surrounding environment are linked to his memories of drinking coffee. 

Additionally, hand stencils are evident in the background of the tin, which are commonly found in Aboriginal art dating back thousands of years. Jeremy explained how the stencils found on his artwork represent our ancestors and a connection to the time before us. In the original painting, Jeremy uses his daughter’s hands. “Having my daughter’s hands in the painting allowed her to be part of the story. And I think that’s always been the case with my kids, allowing them to be part of it. Allowing them to learn through oral teaching, so they would sit around with me as I was painting,” Jeremy said.

Another feature in the artwork is the dots, which in the North Queensland region are symbolic of rain drops and how they fall on the skin and on the land. They replicate the intricate pattern that rain leaves on dry sand in the rain forest or on the beach. On the NESCAFÉ tin, Jeremy uses the dots to represent the Mary River which runs through the Gympie region, adding more meaningful associations of the artwork with its reference to where NESCAFÉ coffee is roasted & blended. 

Nescafe - Jeremy Donovan Limited Edition Tin

The meaning of NAIDOC

The acronym NAIDOC originally stood for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’. The committee was once responsible for organising national activities during NAIDOC Week and its acronym has since become the name of the week itself. NAIDOC Week celebrations are held every year across Australia to celebrate the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Due to the impacts of COVID-19, the NAIDOC Week celebration dates for 2020 were pushed back from July to 8-15 November. The theme is “Always Was, Always Will Be.” which recognises the First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years.
 

NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation

“Companies like Nestlé are playing a role by allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people to tell a story within the framework of business,” said Jeremy. “The moment the artwork got placed on the tin, it gave us an ability to tell a story and take those stories into the lives of not just their staff, but also the families and the lives of all the people that have these tins within their homes. All of this is playing a huge role in reconciliation. It gives Aboriginal people a feeling of worth within these businesses as well, and that’s a critical thing.”

 

This limited edition NESCAFÉ coffee tin design is available exclusively at WINC

The same artwork design can be found on NESCAFÉ stickpacks at select Accor properties.

 

 

Watch the full interview with Jeremy Donovan

Sources

https://www.naidoc.org.au/ 

http://www.sharingculture.info/stories.html

https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/arts/aboriginal-rock-art#hand-stencils