Maar Nation-Gunditjmara artist Sherry Johnstone wants to use her new role at the Warrnambool Art Gallery to champion the First Peoples' culture of south-west Victoria.
Ms Johnstone has been appointed Curator of Cultural Engagement at the WAG.
The role is a first for the region, and made possible through funding from Creative Victoria and the Helen McPherson Smith Trust.
Ms Johnstone is a practising artist with 15 years experience working in children's education.
In 2018 she created The Aboriginal Early Years Activity Resource Kit designed to offer a broader understanding of Aboriginal symbols, stories and games for young children from all cultures.
"I've always loved being artistic, art is soul-satisfying. Whenever I get a chance I'm doing something creative," she said.
"As I've hit my 40s I've become so overwhelmingly passionate about my Aboriginality. I'm curious about my culture, I just want to learn more and make a difference in this space.
"It's the part of my DNA that calls me deeply and I know some people may look at me and think I don't look Aboriginal, but it's about people acknowledging that it is in my heritage.
"I may not fit in their box to look like an Aboriginal person, but the most important part is that I feel it."
I've become so overwhelmingly passionate about my Aboriginality... It's the part of my DNA that calls me deeply.Sherry Johnstone
Ms Johnstone's grandmother was born on the Framlingham mission. She was born in Colac, and was raised in Port Fairy and Warrnambool.
She now lives in Dennington and has created powerful artworks, including an award-winning piece in 2017 showing family violence from an Aboriginal perspective.
"I want to change perceptions on what Aboriginal people are. This job is a really exciting space," Ms Johnstone said.
"I get to go out, engage community and learn from them, get ideas and try to create a really stimulating and captivating space that's going to bring all the beautiful objects they have here to life, and try to tell the stories of those objects.
"It will be a mixture of a lot of things, it will be working with what's already here, but also finding new emerging artists and established artists, and supporting them.
"I want it to be a culturally safe space that they would feel welcome to come in to. I think that's what the art gallery is all about. It doesn't matter what race you are, the doors are open."
Ms Johnstone will lead the development of programs and exhibitions that preserve, share and promote understanding of the First Peoples culture of south-west Victoria.
She hopes to engage youth in the stories of their elders by blending traditional storytelling with contemporary art practices.
"I think if we can blend some technology - the old with the new - and bring those stories to life in that way, hopefully the youth will be more curious and want to learn more about their culture," she said.
"It's about bringing their stories to life while celebrating their resilience and what they were able to do even under the traumatic circumstances of colonisation.
"It's celebrating where we are today with culture, how it's evolving with the times, but also acknowledging what our ancestors actually went through.
"Unfortunately we've lost a lot of that history, which has been fragmented and in many ways shaped and moulded into what non-Aboriginal society wanted it to be unfortunately.
"It's just about creating that understanding and awareness, acknowledging the past but celebrating and carrying on the culture."
It's just about creating that understanding and awareness, acknowledging the past but celebrating and carrying on the culture.Sherry Johnstone
The position forms part of the Maar Nation, Aboriginal-led Gallery and legacy initiative at the WAG, which provides a link between world-class nature-based tourism destinations in the region and ancient indigenous connection to land and language in Victoria.
WAG director Vanessa Gerrans said: "The depth and breadth of the Maar Nation Gallery and legacy initiative is visionary, enabling access to a significant collection of artefacts and transfer of knowledge through stories, symbols and interpretation.
"We are thrilled to welcome Sherry to our team and look forward to working with her to shape new opportunities for south-west Aboriginal artists and ensure people across the region can experience the ingenuity of south-west Victorian First Peoples'.
"The Maar Nation program at WAG is led by a committee of elders and cultural leaders. Sherry will soon be joined by a Maar Nation Cadet. The Gallery is quickly becoming a hub of activity which is exciting and revitalising."
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