Bernadette Klavins interviews Naomi Hobson

Neo spoke with artist Naomi Hobson to discuss her recent photographic series, Adolescent Wonderland, and how the project works to celebrate the identity of the young people in her community.

BK: Could you tell me a little bit about the series, Adolescent Wonderland, and how it came about?

NH: The series is based on the young people in my community. There are high expectations of young people in Aboriginal communities these days, and I wanted to use [my art] as a platform to show who they really are. [Young people] are questioning who they have to be, or who they need to be, in order to live in society today. Adolescent Wonderland puts some light on who they really are, and encourages other young people to just be who you are, and just ‘do you’.

It’s important for the world to see that these young people bring an important persona to the community and to the world, and I think we need to embrace that. I have three daughters, and each of them is unique and individual, and I’m always nurturing that. In Adolescent Wonderland, I wanted the world to see that it’s important to nurture individuality, and for young people to grow up being who they are, and being true to themselves.

There is so much in social media these days about who they should be. [By] having teenage and young adult daughters around, [you see] that expectation. Our young people are unique, and especially in Indigenous communities. I don’t think people outside our community really know who [our young people] really are. When you come from an Indigenous community, you’re expected to live culturally – you’re out in the bush, in the wild, on country – and that might be the case, but young people also have their own interests and engagement; they’re in touch with both the ‘outside’ world and their cultural traditional world.

BK: The works feel like a real celebration of individuality, and I think you can really feel that in the photographs themselves and the joy in the stories of each individual person. The titles also share a little bit about that story, like a snapshot into that person’s life.

NH: That’s what I tried to show through Adolescent Wonderland, and what you’re seeing is who they really are. It’s not staged, it’s raw, it’s out on the street, it’s community, and that’s who they are, and that’s what I’m capturing ... for the country to see.

I think you need to have a bond and deep trust in your relationships and, being from Coen, I feel the photographs also demonstrate this. The [young people] want to tell the world who they really are and they’re happy for the world to see them. I go for walks through the community, or go out and visit family, and the [young people] are really engaged and open about showing who they are; as young Indigenous people living remotely in the bush.

BK: And how do the young people that you work with respond to being featured in these exhibited photographs? How do they respond to being centre stage in your work?

NH: After Adolescent Wonderland was exhibited at the Cairns Art Gallery, a lot of their family members and friends saw the pictures hung up on the wall; it sent a huge positive wave back through our communities. When the real story is being told, our young people love to be in front of the camera ... for them to be sharing stories, and for people to see who they really are, it’s important.

BK: As images, they’re really refreshing and honest. I think that space between childhood and adulthood is such an interesting and important time in everyone’s life. How do you find telling the kind of stories that happen during that time? How did you come to work directly with the young people in your community?

NH: It’s just something I see every day and recognised the need to express. Being from Coen, and having that insight into [young people’s] everyday lifestyle, I am grateful that I can share this with the rest of the world. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but people think of remote Aboriginal kids living in Northern Australia with a perception that is very different from the reality, for example, most interaction with Aboriginal kids in the north is [of ] an image painted up and wearing grass skirts ... we do practise our traditions, but there’s the other side of things ... who they really are every day, and that I wanted to capture and share through Adolescent Wonderland.

When people think of remote Cape York, they don’t expect [the young community] to have anything else, other than their own cultural interests. Well no, they do have that, but they are also like any other young people with their fashion, pop music, lingo and mannerisms. So that triggered Adolescent Wonderland.

Because we don’t have a dedicated arts creative space here in Coen, a lot of young people are coming to my place to interact with arts and creative stuff. They can come to my place, see me doing my art, and I can listen to their stories, it’s always open for them and I really embrace that.

BK: Do you think that people are using photography as the medium to express themselves? Do you see that you’re passing on those skills to them?

NH: I think young people are getting crazy adventurous with all the apps and photo settings in their mobile phones. This is certainly highlighting their personal characters. They’re just really connecting with how they want to share their story ... Young people are so advanced in using technology and they also love getting their photos taken, but let them show you their story, their way; that’s what Adolescent Wonderland is all about.

Bernadette is Teen Programs Officer at AGSA. This article first appeared in AGSA Magazine Issue 40, 2020.

Getting Started

Bring Naomi Hobson into the classroom

Naomi Hobson, Coen River, Cape York, Queensland, 2017; photo: Tim Fryberg.

Naomi Hobson

Learn more about the artist

Naomi Hobson, Southern Kaantju/Umpila people, Queensland, born 1978, Coen, Queensland, OMG! “OMG! This is actually heavier than it looks!” Alaina., from the series Adolescent Wonderland, 2019, Coen, Queensland, digital print on paper, 81.0 x 110.0 cm; Courtesy the artist and Redot Fine Art Gallery, © Naomi Hobson/Redot Fine Art Gallery.

Adolescent Wonderland

Making and responding activities

Naomi Hobson, Southern Kaantju/Umpila people, Queensland, born 1978, Coen, Queensland, 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 and Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Naomi Hobson/ReDot Fine Art Gallery.

Country and Colour

Making and responding activities