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The Australian National University

Ms Gretchen Stolte

Position: PhD candidate in Anthropology


Ms Gretchen Stolte
Position: PhD candidate in Anthropology
Contact: Email:

Thesis title: Art and identity production among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists at the Tropical North Institute of TAFE, Cairns, Queensland

Research Interests: My research interest focuses on the relationship between images and identity among Indigenous artists in urban and regional centres. I am interested in exploring how elements within a painted or printed image are chosen, how the elements are articulated and in what ways if any those elements relate back to conceptions of self. Important to this line of research is how cultural protocols fit into the creation of a contemporary work, how those protocols are arrived at, what sort of consultation is involved, and how such consultations are negotiated. Aside from artworks such as paintings, linoprints, batiks, carvings and sculptures, I am also interested in looking at contemporary dance, costumes and music.

The Research Project: For almost 30 years, the Tropical North Institute of TAFE's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts department has laid the foundation for Indigenous artists within the Cairns region and beyond. Some of the region's top artists have passed through the program's doors including Alick Tipoti, Dennis Nona, Brian Robinson, Lisa Michl and Zane Saunders. With help and support from the major galleries in the region, for almost three decades the program has led the way in establishing the Far North's Indigenous art scene.

A key cornerstone to the program's curriculum is arguably the courses on exploring one's Indigenous identity. Although seemingly at odds with popular expectations that Indigenous culture is solely passed down through elders and living on country, the courses on identity are important experiences for Cairns' Indigenous artists for a range of different reasons. My research explores the different ways in which identity is experienced within the TAFE classroom, the questions and difficulties inherent in that experience, how issues of cultural protocols are addressed and the resulting products of such a journey. Of note, I will be exploring how particular images are used to express identity, how those images are considered valid representers of self and heritage, and how those images are acquired.

The following are samples of some of the artworks, motifs and designs created within the Indigenous arts studio at the TAFE, Cairns. All copyrights belong to the artists and images are posted with their permission. For inquiries regarding the artists, their works and the research project, please feel free to contact me via email.
Tommy Pau © 2010: Pau is a multi-talented artist who manipulates his drawings, carvings, digital works, fabrics and linocuts into colourful works reflecting his multi-cultural heritage. Pau’s main goal is to educate people about his Torres Strait Island home region but he is also seeking ways to incorporate other imageries from other culture. As he says, “an artist shouldn't be limited for their creative inspiration.” Pau is keenly aware however that cultural protocols exist and part of his artistic exploration is finding appropriate ways of borrowing and incorporating images from a variety of sources.


Lynelle Flinders © 2010: Flinders is a Cairns-based artist who maintains strong associations with her grandfather's home community of Hope Vale. Flinders is currently experimenting with the array of different mediums offered in the course, focusing on bold colours inspired by the beauty of the natural and Christian world. Above all else, Flinders identifies herself as a Christian and as an artist, she explores her faith and her Aboriginal heritage together.


Pellista Lammon © 2010: Lammon draws from memories of her childhood to create the colourful paintings based on life on the Great Barrier Reef. Growing up on the mainland and the Torres Strait Islands has instilled a deep sense of family and connectedness with people and is expressed in her batik “Unity” which shows people coming together and working as one.


Peter Morrison © 2010: Morrison is a new student to art and enjoys exploring the animals and environments from his Torres Strait Islander heritage. His preferred motifs include the Torres Strait Dove, the Dhari headdress, the hammerhead shark and the sea turtle. Morrison’s attention to detail and his creative background patterning add visual interest to his compositions.

Ian Jensen © 2010: Jensen is a Yidinji artist from Cairns who enjoy working with digital images while drawing upon his rich cultural heritage. Beginning with the designs and themes of the rainforest shields commonly used in pre-contact days, Jensen creates a new way of visually engaging with traditional material culture in his digitally produced artworks. Jensen is a meticulous artist, embedding within his works a number of layers of symbolism and meaning to those familiar with Yidinji designs and customs. As Jensen says, his artworks are the “Now-Time, more so than the Dream-Time.”


Kel Williams © 2010: Williams is a woodcarver, print-maker and painter who draws upon his Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage to create his carefully crafted works. William’s sensitive handling of and attention to detail towards his subject matter has made him a popular fixture among the arts and crafts fairs throughout the Cairns region. Williams also shares his expertise with the remote communities throughout Cape York, encouraging his students to express their identity and themselves through the art of woodcarving.

Liz Saveka © 2010: Saveka is artist who comes from a diverse background which includes Pacific Islander, Aboriginal, and Torres Strait Islander heritages. Having lived in Machans Beach her whole life instilled in her a love of the ocean and a deep sense of pride in her home town. Saveka has a passion for experimenting in different mediums and techniques and wants to go beyond being an ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘Islander’ artist and instead wants to be known for her creative works alone.

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