The contribution to Aboriginal education by Wiradjuri and Gamilaroi academic Dr Lynette Riley has been recognised with a submission for this year's Archibald prize.
The portrait, by artist Charlotte Lund, shows Dr Riley positioned in front of a full moon, adorned with a possum-skin cloak. The pair worked collaboratively on the piece to ensure Dr Riley's cultural identity was accurately conveyed.
“I wore a traditional cloak that I created through my cultural practice with linework and burning, which featured my Clan totem of a bush-tailed possum, and the background of the painting included Wiradjuri symbols," she told NITV News.
“Wearing the cloak in the portrait was especially significant to me because as a child it was actually still against the law to practice that kind of cultural transmission.”
Dr Riley, who is currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, was the first person in her family to gain access to education. Her career has spanned more than 30 years in the field, working as a teacher and in Aboriginal education and administration within primary schools, high schools, TAFE, state office and other universities.
Sitting for the portrait was a refreshing shift, said Dr Riley.
"I usually tend to stay in the background because I’m more of a catalyst for making change, so having this kind of public recognition is astonishing, it’s so amazing and exciting for me!." she said.
Ms Lund, who is a tattoo artist from Bondi in Sydney's East, said she felt compelled to use Dr Riley as a subject for her submission because of both her prestige in the education sector and her standing as a positive female role model for women in the community.
“Lynette really bridges the gap between the Indigenous community and the wider foreseen ideals of the white Individual, the power of being Indigenous is an incredibly underrated thing and rather than making her narrative about why she’s weak, she makes it about why she is so incredibly strong.” she said.
Ms Lund also said the painting has underlying tones of fortitude, resilience, and empowerment due to Dr Riley's life story, that aimed to encompass her working career which involved helping develop the first Aboriginal Education Policy, while raising seven children and surviving three encounters with cancer.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales will announce the finalists for the contest on September 17.