Inspired by her direct environment and ongoing connection to Country

Naomi Hobson is a Southern Kaantju/Umpila woman who lives in Coen, a small town of 360 people in the centre of Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland. A multidisciplinary artist, she regularly works across the mediums of painting, ceramics and photography. Inspired by her direct environment, Hobson’s works express her ongoing connection to Country and her ancestors’ ties and relationships with their traditional lands.

Through her work, she references her family’s political and social engagements as well as her own personal engagement with her Country and community. In Hobson’s recent photographic series Adolescent Wonderland, she is working to empower young people in her community, to encourage them to be themselves and to celebrate their uniqueness. Through this process, more young people in her community have taken up photography.

Today photography needs to push the boundary. I feel it doesn’t need to be picture perfect and as a fine art – I’m using the medium to tell real stories that I feel don’t get told or haven’t been told. I want people to see who our youth really are; fun, playful, smart, savvy, proud, adventurous and witty
Naomi Hobson

Learn more about Adolescent Wonderland and how you can incorporate Hobson's work into your classroom with an online briefing by AGSA’s Education Coordinator, Kylie Neagle.

The backgrounds in Hobson’s photographs are black and white, while the figures and their props are emphasised by colour. Why do you think the artist has chosen to do this? Why not just take a colour photograph?

Look closely at the poses of each of Hobson’s subjects. Re-enact these poses. Now that you have placed yourself in these positions, what does their body language suggest? Are they confident, insecure, relaxed, happy, sad, excited? Share your responses with the class.

Celebrating young people and community

Bernadette Klavins interviews Naomi Hobson

Adolescent Wonderland

Adolescent Wonderland is a series of photographs that tell the real-life story of young Aboriginal people in remote Australia. The title of this series was inspired by the classic children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Themes of youth, playfulness and childhood memories are evident in Hobson’s photographs. The brightly coloured figures and their props lure the viewer into a dream-like reality, much like how Alice follows the white rabbit.

As Shonae Hobson, Naomi Hobson’s daughter, describes one work titled Road Play, ‘depicts sisters Laine and Katarna on a street outside their home and illustrates the dualities between teenage adolescence and childhood nostalgia. Laine is pictured wearing a white “rabbit” mask – a clever reference to Alice’s escape into the rabbit hole that leads to a fantasy world of anthropomorphic creatures and characters. The symbol of the rabbit is used as a metaphor for the playful and adventurous lifestyle of Indigenous kids today’.

Sometimes artists who use photography in their work manipulate their image or their subjects. Does a photographer ‘make’ or ‘take’ a photograph? Provide examples for your answer.

Create & Capture

Hobson has said ‘Adolescent Wonderland is getting people to appreciate just being themselves’. How would you describe the people in your family? Take a series of photographs of members of your family being themselves. How will you capture the essence of who they are with a single still image?

Themes of youth, playfulness and childhood memories resonate throughout Hobson’s photographs. Think about an object that you associate with your childhood – one that is playful and reminds you of a happy time. It might be an old toy, an item of clothing or a delicious treat that you associate with a particular time. Photograph this object in your home. Edit this image so that the emphasis is on the object – you may like to exaggerate or alter the colour. Display your photograph in a class exhibition.

Conversations about colour

Colour is an important element in Hobson’s work. Compare the use of high-key colour in Hobson’s Adolescent Wonderland series to the First Jobs series by Tracey Moffatt. How have both artists manipulated colour in their work? How are these artists’ works similar and different? Discuss the following statement in relation to Hobson’s and Moffatt’s photographs: ‘Colour is a powerful tool in art making, one that is emotive and can evoke nostalgia and humour.’

Tracey Moffatt, First Jobs series

Country and Colour

Naomi Hobson’s paintings Blue Reef at Night, 2018, and Touch the River Floor, 2019, are inspired by her direct environment and connection to the Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland. They explore the vastness, colour and patterns of Country.

Hobson describes being woken at night by colour. She also speaks of how sometimes a particular place or location in her home of Coen will come to her as a colour. Country and colour are connected for Hobson, who says: ‘I was brought up with the widest hue – it’s very bright where I live in Cape York.’ This chromatic intensity is conveyed in Touch the River Floorand is a reminder that, for some people, colour is experienced through other senses, including touch, taste, sound and scent, as well as through sight.

Naomi Hobson, Kaantju people, Queensland, born 1979, Coen, Queensland, Blue Reef At Night, 2018, Coen, Queensland, synthetic polymer on linen, 210.0 x 210.0 cm; © Naomi Hobson/Kalan Clay Shed, photo: ReDot Fine Art Gallery.

Naomi Hobson, Southern Kaantju/Umpila people, Queensland, born Coen, Queensland 1978, Touch the River Floor, 2019, Coen, Queensland, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 205.5 x 209.5 cm; Acquisition through Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Naomi Hobson.

As a child, Hobson would find interesting patterns and shapes in nature, including grains of sand or glossy bark from ghost gum trees. For one whole week, take a sketchbook with you everywhere you go and sketch interesting patterns you encounter in your everyday environment.

Recall a memory when you spent time in a natural environment. Capture that memory using mark making. Layer your painting using different materials, colours and patterns associated with this place.

Conduct some colour experiments using your other senses. What do you think red, yellow, orange, blue, purple or green taste, sound or move like? Create a chart for your taste responses and record your sound and movement responses. Compare your responses with others in the class.

Hobson connects colours with places and stories. Experiment with mixing paint to create three different shades of colour that capture the place where you live. Using only these three colours, create a painting that depicts your environment

Explore our online Student Gallery to see how children have responded appropriately to the work of Naomi Hobson