Heather Shearer standing next to her artwork commissioned by Wellways Australia

Award-winning artist Heather Kamarra Shearer was commissioned to create an artwork interpreting how the programs and services of Wellways can provide support, advice and ongoing partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with mental health issues or disability and their families, friends and carers.

Winner of the National NAIDOC Poster Competition followed by the Alice Springs NAIDOC Artist of the Year Award in 1992, Heather is sought-after for her commissioned pieces, community art projects and art healing programs. A child of the Stolen Generation, she strives to educate people about the history of the Stolen Generations Movement in her work.

Heather was reunited with her Aboriginal family at the age of 39. They are all artists and, as she was unable to speak her own language, she started using art as her voice, to communicate with her family and community, to tell her story and to address her own mental health.

“Art was an avenue for me to look at my issues and get them out of my head and onto a canvas. It became a tangible way for me to deal with a lot of the situations and the trauma that I’d been through.”

Based on Western Desert art from Central Australia, the imagery of the concentric circles in the centre of this painting, titled ‘Community strengthening community’, is Tjukurrpa, Aboriginal lore. In this artwork, the circles symbolise eight people sitting around a campfire, which also represent the Aboriginal community. The pathways that lead outwards show the wavering journeys that people with mental health issues and disabilities make to become independent within their own self.

Heather recognises that this is no easy journey and explains: “Life doesn’t take you in a straight line. It takes you in curves, up and down, over and under, and every now and again you might go off on a tangent. If you're not feeling that you can cope with it, the colours will come back to support you into a program to keep you on track.”

The white dots acknowledge the pathways that people have travelled and represent light and hope while the two colourful panels characterise people who are struggling. The network of triangles represent the mind and inner conflict while the surrounding dotted lines, cradling the triangles with hope, represent our programs, services and people.

When Heather was first commissioned to do the artwork for Wellways, she was inspired by the organisation and the way in which we work, as our emphasis on community and cohesion shares similarities with the ethos of the Aboriginal family.

“It is about providing support. It’s not just about delivering the service to an individual. It is looking at holistically how the community—how the family, the extended family—can all be part of this. That is very much a way within the Aboriginal family … that's what I liked about Wellways. The areas of the service delivery, whether it was working individually, whether it was providing to the family, it all interconnected.”

Watch Heather explain the meaning of her artwork in the video below and hear more about her own story here.