Kaylene Whiskey (b.1976) is a Yankunytjatjara artist who spends her days painting and working at Iwantja Arts – an Aboriginal-owned art centre situated at Indulkana on the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands roughly 1200km northwest of Adelaide. Whiskey’s brightly coloured comic-strip style paintings are known for their playful synthesis of popular and desert culture, often featuring recurring cameos of Hollywood actors, famous film and television characters, divas and pop icons interacting with Whiskey’s daily life in Indulkana.
Whiskey’s painting style is distinct. She uses a combination of cartoon speech bubbles, flat two-dimensional planes of colour and ‘dot’ iconography deeply connected to a history of central desert painting to tell her stories. While painting, she listens to a variety of rock’n’roll, country and pop music. She checks social media, plays films or NITV – the National Indigenous Television channel – in the background, all of which is incorporated into her work. Under Whiskey’s paintbrush, icons like Cher and Dolly Parton, even hybrid characters such as Whiskey’s own ‘Black Wonder Woman’, are re-staged in the desert. They become kungka kunpu – strong women – talking in language, tending to or harvesting bush tucker, and almost always preparing for a party.
I love trying different things in the art centre. I’m from the generation that grew up with Coca-Cola and TV as well as Tjukurpa (cultural stories) and bush tucker, so I like to have a bit of fun with combining those two worlds.
Whiskey listens to music or plays films in the background while she paints. What music do you like to listen to while you are working, writing or creating a work of art?
Watch the animation Party Time!, or 52 Actions by Whiskey. As you watch, make a list of all the things or people you recognise. Share your list with the class, what other things did your peers notice? What do these things have in common, can they be grouped in some way?
Now make a list of things that are important to you, include your family, friends, pets as well as your hobbies, interests or favourite foods, sports, TV shows, movies or colours. Create a series of individual drawings to represent each of your favourite and important things. Cut these drawings out and make either a collage or simple animation that communicates the story of your life.
Investigate what pop culture is and how it has influenced artists and their work. Select two works of art (one historical and one contemporary) and analyse how the artists have used pop culture within their work. Compare this approach to that used by Whiskey. What characteristics do these works of art share?
Whiskey likes trying different things in the art centre and stated ‘I’m from the generation that grew up with Coca-Cola and TV as well as Tjukurpa (cultural stories) and bush tucker, so I like to have a bit of fun with combining those two worlds.’ Similarly, Maluyligal and Wuthathi artist Brian Robinson states:
“Growing up on Waiben (Thursday Island) in the Torres Strait in a family of fisherfolk whose Roman Catholic faith exists in synergy with traditional Maluyligal and Wuthathi spirituality, my creations are seemingly incongruous concoctions where many motifs and characters are co-opted into the spirit world of the Islander imagination, which are then intertwined with historical narrative, personal history and humour”.
Brian Robinson was also in Tarnanthi in 2019 with his work Empyreal: A Place and a Path in the Sky and on the Earth, and in 2015 with Custodian of the Blooms.
- Compare works of art by each artist. How do Robinson and Whiskey bring together their ‘two worlds’ - their cultural stories and popular culture they also grew up with.
- Create a drawing incorporating your favourite pop culture references combined with something about your culture or family traditions.
Explore the movies and children’s programs featured on NITV, National Indigenous Television made by, for and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. You may like to select a few programs you could watch with students, perhaps watch a program weekly or save some favourites for Reconciliation Week or NAIDOC week.
Tarnanthi is presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia with Principal Partner BHP and support from the Government of South Australia
The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.
This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration Dr. Belinda Howden, Kylie Neagle and Dr. Lisa Slade.