'Put love out there': Indigenous painter reaches across Tasman after Christchurch mosque attacks

A group of Aboriginal women from the Anangu Pitjanjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands have gifted the Muslim communities in Adelaide and New Zealand a painting each, following the deadly attack on mosques in Christchurch earlier this year.

Nyunmiti Burton with the paintings she gifted to the Muslim community

When Nyunmiti Burton heard about the Christchurch shooting she wanted to give the Muslim community something special. Source: SBS / , Supplied: Tjala Arts

When Nyunmiti Burton heard about the attack on Christchurch's Muslim community earlier this year, she was moved to grief.

Ms Burton, who lives in South Australia’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands, wanted to show her solidarity with the in New Zealand, but was separated from victims by thousands of kilometres.

She decided to do one of the things she is most passionate about - she began to paint.

Nyunmiti Burton paints at the Tjala Arts Centre.
Nyunmiti Burton paints at the Tjala Arts Centre. Source: SBS / , Supplied: Tjala Arts

"For us when we lose someone, we go to the families and we go to the communities and we grieve, and we grieve and we grieve," Ms Burton told the ABC.

"We grieve with the families and we bring them flowers and we put it on the coffins to express our love."

A group of other women soon joined Ms Burton in painting - and what resulted were two huge artworks.

The group spent weeks talking about Christchurch and painting a story of grief.

One of the paintings, which depicts the honey grevillea shrub, a native plant that produces yellow and green flowers in winter, was gifted to Adelaide’s Muslim community, and the other is headed for .

Ms Burton said the flowers symbolise rebirth and coming together.

"We wanted to put that love out there, we wanted to grieve with everyone, but New Zealand is so far away," she said.

"We wanted to do it on this painting so that it could be with you forever."

'Despite the tragedies'

Another art work was presented to Adelaide’s Muslim community at Marion Mosque.

Adelaide Imam Riad El-Rifai said he had no words to accurately express his gratitude.

"This signifies not only your own greatness but also the significance of people getting together despite their backgrounds, in spite of their language, and the significance of coming together not only in times of difficulties but also in times of ease," he said.

"There are no words that can express our gratitude at this moment but we can only pray that God Almighty keeps us safe, keeps this country safe and brings people together despite their differences and despite the tragedies that may seem to want to divide us."

'Continuous connection'

While the paintings are an unexpected gift, the relationship between Australia’s Aboriginal community and Muslim faithful spans hundreds of years.

There’s evidence that, as early as the 1700s, Muslim fishermen from Indonesia traveled to northern Australia, trading with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

APY artists paint their grief for the victims of the Christchurch massacre
APY artists paint their grief for the victims of the Christchurch massacre. Source: SBS / , Supplied: Tjala Arts

In the late 1800s Afghan cameleers migrated to Australia, transporting goods through the centre of the country.

Many chose to stay in Australia, settling in Aboriginal communities across the APY Lands.

Islamic Society of South Australia treasurer Waleed Alkhasrajy said there were many Aboriginal people who had descended from the Macassar traders and cameleers.

"We have a continuous connection with Aboriginal people from the 1600s that continues to today," he said.

3 min read
Published 31 May 2019 at 2:30pm
By Keira Jenkins
Source: SBS