A Big Year
To say JUMP alumnus Teho Ropeyarn is having a big year is an understatement. Teho’s artist career is booming with recently receiving an Australia Council ArtStart grant, being selected as a finalist in the Telstra National Art Awards, and soon to exhibit in the Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair. Between his roles as an artist, an arts worker and a new dad, Teho took the time to have a chat:
Tara: Teho, you first came into contact with YAQ back in late 2010 when you were accepted into the JUMP program with mentor Theodore Tremblay. Tell us a little about the highlights of working with Theo. Was there anything you feel he helped you with in particular that lead you on this path of success?
Teho: I visited Theo one day in the studio to print some of my works and he suggested that I apply for the JUMP program. I heard about the program whilst I was in college, Theo and I managed to get together an application short notice and luckily were succesful. From there on, Theo taught me the fundamentals of printmaking, and gave me lots of professional advice in regards to breaking away from the western aesthetic of creating works in the square frame (ie on lino block). This is seen with most Torres Strait Islanders prints where the image is cut to shape; taking it out of the western influence of staying in a square and integrating our culture and stories by shaping our blocks.
From all of his advice, I started to think outside the square; the designs, the shape, my heritage, being unique, how can I take his advice and put it into practice, the risk of a new direction for my work, but most importantly staying true to who I am, where I’m from and keeping that in play with my new works. I always take on advice and critisms, that’s how I challenge myself to creating even better works.
TM: How do you feel your work at UMI Arts as an Artsworker helps you in your artistic practice? Is it hard to juggle a career as an artist and a career as an artsworker? Do you think you’ll continue both streams in the future?
TR: My position as the Indigenous Development Officer for visual arts and crafts has helped me to understand the art world in Cairns and Far North Queensland, including the Cape and Torres Strait. My position involves working with artists, art centres and community, and to support member artists. I think the benefit of having this positon is the people I meet; both emerging and professional artists and arts workers, and people in arts organisation.
I’m juggling three things at the moment. I’ve got a 10 month old baby at home who likes to have me in sight all the time, my work here at UMI Arts, and being an artist and I’m managing all three very well. My work takes up most of the time and when I’m home I have to spend time with my daughter who misses me a lot because when I get home she starts smiling and gets all excited so we try to do family acitivties together. Then at night when bub settles, I spend a couple of hours working on the latest project and sometimes I go to bed at midnight.
I like challenges and like being on my toes doing many things at once, it keeps me motivated. At this stage I don’t think I’ll be a full time artist because I like working and to support the family I need to be in a financially stable job. I think being employed in the art industry and creating work on the side is what I’ll be doing in the future, unless being an artist takes over my work and then I’ll focus on being a full time artist. Although I’ll never be full time in one position, as I always have side projects on; whether it be my business which I’m working on and doing artwork or employed in a job. At this stage I’m an artworker managing exhibition and supporting member artists, and on the side I think I’m a hobby artist/creating works at home, working on my own personal business and looking after my family.
TM: You’ve recently received an Artstart Grant – how do you intend on using it (to set/continue up your business/practice)?
TR: The artstart grant will fund a business I’ve slowly been working on for four years now and as a successful grant applicant, I have the chance to make it real. The grant will fund business set up costs, a website and a training course in business.
TM: Tell us about your participation in the Cairns Indigenous Arts Festival this year.
Artists include: Vernon Ahkee, Richard Bell, Michael Cook, Joanne Currie, Nephi Denham, Sally Gabori, Gordon Hookey Craig Koomeeta, Glen Mackie, Justin Majid, Shirley Macnamara, Arone Meeks, Billy Missi, Abe Muriata, Rosella Namok, Laurie Nilsen, Leigh Namponan, Sharon Phineasa, Teho Ropeyarn, Zane Saunders, Ken Thaiday Snr, Ian Waldron and Judy Watson.
I’ll also be curating our UMI Arts annual Pathways exhibition – an annual exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists who have completed UMI Arts Exhibition Ready program either in Cairns or in the community. There are 20 artists who will be showing works this year. This exhibition will be launched on Wednesday 15 August and close on Wednesday 26 September, 2012.
TM: Obviously your success doesn’t come without determination – what inspires you to work so hard and tirelessly?
TR: I set my goals and always believe in them, work towards them and having positive people by your side who support you in what you do helps a lot. My recent successes was supported by a number of people and I thank them for their continued support in what I’m doing. I never let anything stop me- I do what I like to do and make sure I do it right.
With my art making, my aim is to preserve and strengthen Injinoo culture by creating artwork that is based on the stories of our people and using language so that future generation know these stories and it will be there for a very long time. In this process, I too am learning about language, remembering language and stories for the benefit of my art and most importantly for my people and the future generation of our childrens.
TM: After so many achievements over the past couple years, which one are you the most proud of, and why?
TR: I am proud of all the achievements I’ve come across over the last 7 years. From my Degree in Fine Arts at COFA-UNSW, Indigenous Development Officer at UMI Arts, JUMP Program with Theo, Selected into the National Telstra Art Award, invited to Avril’s CIAF Exhibition, selected into Inkfest Exhibition at Tanks Art Centre and I’m looking forward to the future.
TM: Thank you Teho for your wonderful story, congratulations and best of luck with your entry in the National Telstra Art Award.