Yukul Art: Stories of family, culture and Dreamtime
We speak to Lara Went, the founder of Yukul Art, an artist studio located in Forster on the east coast of NSW. With deep reverence for her bloodline and for Mother Nature, Lara paints traditional and contemporary Aboriginal works of art.

Tell us about yourself

Wiyabu (hello). I’m a contemporary Aboriginal artist from Worimi Country. I reside in a small seaside town on the east coast of Australia with my husband and two little ones, Lola and Jarley. I have always run my business from my home until I took the leap and opened my own art studio six years ago not far from my house in Failford, NSW.

When did you first start Yukul Art?

I have been creating, drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. Yukul Art was born in 2014 when my first baby came along; she was the inspiration behind creating a balanced life of motherhood and work. My work consists of creating my own pieces to sell as art prints or originals online and in the studio, and custom pieces for personal or business use. I also run art workshops for kids and adults. Over the past three years I have been working closely with local schools in my area sharing culture and teaching Aboriginal art.

In what way does your work reflect the stories from your mob or culture?

I come from a bloodline of very strong Aboriginal women. I feel that this can be seen in lots of my works through the use of colour and the figures I use. I have also spent the majority of my life by the sea, so many memories travelling Australia with my dad and brother, camping and surfing, have strongly influenced my love for the ocean and everything in it. I also believe that we have the most beautiful waterways in our home town and this really influences my colour choice when painting ocean scenes. The variety of waterways accessible for my people meant we hunted and gathered mainly from the coast; we are also known as the “Saltwater People”. All my life I have felt strongly connected to the ocean. It is what I call my “happy place” and where I go to unwind.

What Aboriginal symbols do you use in your work?

I feel that my art is wholly influenced by my life experiences. Over the past 12 months, since I have delved deeper into my culture, my paintings are becoming more traditional. In my latest works you will find Dreamtime symbols representing people, animals and nature. My works are a combination of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal art and reflect my generation and influences.

What is your favourite work to date and what was the inspiration?

It is very hard to play favourites when it comes to my work as each piece has a different feeling and reason for being created. However, due to COVID-19 and having to slow down life, I have had time to finally create some art for our own home. I created a piece for my six-year-old daughter Lola. She is such a strong, independent, bright and fun child and the piece, Rainbow Garuwa (the featured image), really shows her personality. It’s easy to connect to pieces like this as they come deep down from my Yukul, which means heart in our language.

What are some of the ways you share your culture through your art?

This proverb is the inspiration behind what I do and why I do it: “We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love and then we return home.” My art prints and originals all have meanings and they are all linked to caring for one thing: Mother Earth. I try to pass on these messages and educate people to live simply, to only take and use what you need from nature, to give back to the earth and, most importantly, to be kind.

What can non-indigenous people do to support indigenous people?

Educate, listen and act. Do your research on the history of Aboriginal culture and people. Listen to our voices. Find ways to act and help. Support First Nations businesses. By this I don’t mean just following them on social media. Find some indigenous locally run businesses in your area and purchase from them; share their work with friends and family. Donate to First Nations legal services and organisations to help shift a change that is very much needed in this country.

Tell us more about your artist classes and workshops

My art classes and workshops came about because I have a strong passion for passing on knowledge and educating about Aboriginal culture, so that one of the longest-surviving cultures in the world continues to thrive. There is fear in the school community about non-indigenous people teaching kids about Aboriginal culture. The fear stems from not passing on the correct knowledge. My main reason for going into schools is to remove this fear, to show teachers how a simple activity using bark and paint can teach children about our culture. This is also where the idea of educating yourself comes into play. We would all have so much more confidence passing on knowledge about things if we were up to date with the correct information.

My adult paint classes are all about having fun, teaching techniques and learning about respect for our culture. My little artist classes are all about teaching Aboriginal culture through the use of natural materials and art. In each class, the children create a piece of art to take home that has a significant meaning in Aboriginal culture.

There are, of course, certain subjects that I believe should remain sacred to First Nations people and that is language and Dreamtime stories. I feel very strongly that indigenous people should only pass on these subjects.

How can our readers participate in educating the young and old about Aboriginal culture?

I think the first thing to do is educate yourself about our history. It is crazy to think that some of our schools are still only sharing the bare minimum about the history of First Nations people and culture. There are so many amazing resources out there for you to dive into and really listen to our people. This will help provide an insight into the experiences, perspectives and emotions of Aboriginal people around the country. Some of my recommendations are Blak Business, Common Ground Australia, Seed Mob, Uluru Statement and, for teachers, I highly recommend Learning to Ngangaanha. I feel once you are educated about our history, then you can make choices to help make a change. All of these resources will point you where you need to go to help. Marrungbu (thank you).

For more, visit yukulart.co