Teho Ropeyarn (b. 1988) is an artist and curator from Injinoo, situated at the very tip of Cape York Peninsula, Far North Queensland. Although he currently lives and works in Cairns, Ropeyarn remains deeply connected to Injinoo – a subject that features prominently in his printmaking practice. He is a descendant of the Angkamuthi and Yadhaykana clans from the east and west coasts of the Northern Cape York Peninsula; he has ancestral connections to Moa, Badu and Murray Islands of the Torres Strait as well as the Woppaburra people of Great Keppel Island and Butchulla people of Fraser Island, both off the east coast of Queensland.
Ropeyarn’s familial and cultural relationships are fundamental to his practice. Having spent much of his childhood and teenage years learning the language, rituals and beliefs of his Injinoo Elders, as well as stories of umany (European colonisation) and uta (post-colonisation), printmaking has become an essential medium for Ropeyarn in maintaining and transmitting his culture. Often working at scale, his prints take a contemporary interpretative approach to the ancestral stories, totems and ceremonial body markings of his Elders rather than a direct transcription. His graphic lino and vinyl cuts – a practice that also encompasses the traditions of carving – frame Injinoo culture through Ropeyarn’s own metaphoric lens and personal aesthetic.
My Aunty Reverend Mary Eseli explained to me that the crocodile knows its territory from birth. The crocodile is patient, a guardian of its territory. The crocodile will travel away but always come back to the area where it lives… If we become the crocodile, our culture and language will be protected for the future generations to come.
Locate Injinoo on a map of Australia. How far is this place from where you live? What do you think the environment would be like in Cape York Peninsula? What flora and fauna might you find there that you might not find in other parts of Australia?
Investigate the seasons where you live versus the seasons in the top end of Australia – how are they different and why?
Ropeyarn spent much of his childhood and teenage years learning the language, rituals and beliefs from his Injinoo Elders. What is something you have learnt from people in your family or community that you think is important to remember or pass on to younger people you know?
Articles and Books
Ayuva Meenha: Teho Ropeyarn. West End, Queensland: onespace gallery, 6 November – 5 December 2020. Exhibition catalogue.
Catalogue of Works: Teho Ropeyarn: Ayuva Meenha. West End, Queensland: onespacegallery, 6 November – 5 December 2020. Exhibition catalogue of works.
Cumpston, Nici. Tarnanthi 2021. Exhibition catalogue. Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 2021.
Geelong Gallery. “Exploring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories—A Geelong Gallery collection resource.” PDF. Accessed 15 September, 2021.
Northern Peninsula Area Art.“Keeping Culture Strong, With the Strength of a Crocodile.” Published 6 August, 2013.
Facebook. “Teho Ropeyarn Artist.”
Geelong Gallery. “Teho Ropeyarn.”
Queensland Government. “Injinoo”. Published 5 December, 2016.
Giga Art. “The Art of Teho Ropeyarn // Aboriginal Art.” Youtube. 3:08mins. Published 19 February, 2021.
Colour Theory ‘Teho Ropeyarn’, published 2014,
Ropeyarn’s newest trio of large-scale vinyl-cuts consider the phenomenon of water in Injinoo life and cosmology. Injinoo is defined by water; it constitutes part of the Seven Rivers region, experiences heavy tropical rains during the wet season and boasts an abundant coastline that borders on the Torres Strait. In Ayarra (rainy season) (2021) a red river, an enclosed loop that runs infinitely, is rained upon by a proportionate cloud – a scale that suggests a kind of kinship. Ropeyarn has populated the river with emblems of Injinoo’s distinct tropical environment, including beach palms, a mountainous landscape of termite mounds and a line of tropical pitcher plants – a ‘lidded’ carnivorous plant that grows along the edge of freshwater creeks.
For Ropeyarn, water is not just an environmentally and culturally significant force but also a metaphor for connection. His trio of prints describe the cyclical power of water, its ability to sustain life and carry cultural memory, but also speak to Ropeyarn’s own yearning and homesickness. They enact a kind of mnemonic or spiritual travel in recalling the teachings of his Elders and inscribing Country to paper: “Being based here in Gimuy (Cairns), I think about home (Injinoo) a lot and reminisce… That connection always there. I worry for home. I long for family and Country. These new works are like a sorry (sad) connection.”
 Teho Ropeyarn quoted by Emma Loban in Tarnanthi 2021, exhibition catalogue, Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 2021, p106.
Ropeyarn learns about his culture from his family. His Aunty Reverend Mary Eseli explained to him that ‘the crocodile knows its territory from birth. The crocodile is patient, a guardian of its territory. The crocodile will travel away but always come back to the area where it lives’.
- Research crocodiles and compile a list of interesting and obscure facts that people might not know about this large Australian reptile. You could create a class quiz by turning your facts into questions.
Discuss the following statement ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are diverse, and so too is their art’. Use works of art to support this statement. Tip: You might begin by first looking at artists from the Torres Strait Island and Cape York Peninsula such as Southern Kaantju and Umpila artist Naomi Hobson or Meriam Mir artist Grace Lillian Lee. How do these artists’ works compare to that of Ropeyarn?
Water is an environmentally and culturally significant force for Ropeyarn. Investigate the cycle of water when it rains where you live. Write a story or poem that celebrates a natural water system near you.
- Ropeyarn’s large lino prints are bold statements that celebrate the power and strength of his culture. Create a work of art that makes a bold statement about who you are.
- Ropeyarn’s bold designs bring together both his Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture, as a means of preserving culture. Think about the two most important or influential people in your life. Create a work of art that pays tribute to them. Combine symbols that represent these two important people in one cohesive design.
- Family and community are the foundation for Ropeyarn’s work. The cultural knowledge that is passed down through generations is visually documented in Ropeyarn’s work. Think of something important that a parent or grandparent has told you about your family or culture. Create a lino design that captures this story, but disguise elements of it so that only you and your family will identify its true meaning.
- Ropeyarn uses designs and symbols which are connected to his culture. Create a design that symbolizes your family or culture. Begin by drawing or photographing patterns around your home on furniture, fabric or tiles. These could be the starting point for your work that make a connection to your home environment. Combine these with other symbols or patterns that are important to you.
- Ropeyarn’s newest trio of large-scale vinyl-cuts consider the phenomenon of water. Create a work of art inspired by your favourite natural phenomenon or by the weather conditions where you live?
- Listen to a range of sounds of water. Create a visual response to these sounds using coloured pencil, paper, pastel etc. Tip: Sounds can be found on YouTube or a sleep ambience application for Android or Apple.
Artist Talk - Teho Ropeyarn - Left
Teho Ropeyarn - Middle
Artist Talk - Teho Ropeyarn - Right
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.