Robert Fielding: Milkali Kutju, One Blood

Robert Fielding discusses his winning work in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards ‘Works on Paper’ category.


Q: What are some of the background ideas that helped you develop your winning work, especially in the context of political posters?

RF: I observed the recent US and Australian elections and really noticed a lot of negative politics. These negative politics come from fear and hate, and cause prejudice and division. My work is political, but it has an overwhelmingly positive message – Milkali Kutju – meaning ‘One Blood’ in Pitjantjatjara language – is a call for unity, for an end to racial prejudice.

Q: What is the general appeal for you of the political poster tradition?

RF: The political poster uses language and imagery to portray its message. I’m mainly interested in how I can use text and images to promote a positive message. My politics are forgiveness, joy, love and understanding – not hate and fear. I use Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara language in my work to demonstrate the pride, strength and resilience of our culture.

Q: How did you approach this work from a technical point of view? What were the challenges?

RF: The work includes hundreds of piercings, burnt through the paper using a soldering iron. One challenge was the burns and blisters I got on my hand from this tool! But for me this burning/piercing technique was a very important element of the work. The text “Milkali Kutju” is asking people to look beneath the surface and see that our differences are only skin deep. We all have blood running through our veins. I’ve pierced the paper so that viewers are literally looking beneath the surface of my artwork. With this burning/piercing technique I am paying tribute to a great artist and matriarch of Mimili who was famous for burning intricate designs onto wooden artefacts with a hot wire. This woman, who’s sadly no longer with us, was a senior cultural elder who showed me the beauty of the country, the culture, the story, song and dance when I first came to Mimili around twenty years ago.

Q: What are some of the broader benefits of winning this award, in terms of the effects the NATSIAAs more generally?

RF: This is the second time I’ve won the Works on Paper category at the NATSIAAs, I also won in 2015. It’s a huge honour to have your work recognised at this level, and I’ve been privileged to receive awards alongside many great Indigenous artists and elders from across the country. The exposure I’ve received from winning this award has generated new opportunities and will allow me to develop some of my ideas for big, exciting projects.

Q: What are you working on now?

RF: Right now I’m working on a few different projects, but the one I’m really excited about is a sculptural project where I’m experimenting with sandblasting designs onto rusted car doors that I’ve salvaged from car wrecks on the APY Lands – I’m looking forward to a major exhibition outcome for this work in 2018!

Top: Robert Fielding, Milkali Kutju – One blood, synthetic polymer paint and ink on burnt and pierced paper, 34th Telstra NATSIAA. Image: Mimili Maku Arts.