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Aboriginal man wins top prize for artwork depicting identity and sexuality

Spencer Fowler Steen

As a proud gay Aboriginal man, Ronald Pepper didn’t hold back in putting his all into a recent piece of artwork which took home the top prize in the Koorie Art Show.

A swirling, brightly coloured collection of images and paintings on canvas, Mr Pepper’s artwork Coming Out 2 tells the story of his identity growing up as a First Nations man, a story he is “proud and honoured” to tell.

“It’s exhilarating,” he told CBD News.

“It’s nice to put my stories out there and to win an amazing award and to have all the elements of my art practice and to tell a story in a nice way.”

Part of Mr Pepper’s painting exhibits trips he took to Japan and China in 2010 under his local government’s Sister City program.

Since then, his love for art has only grown having graduated from Federation University with a Bachelor of Visual and Media Arts in 2017. 

He has since had multiple commissions and been involved in exhibitions in Australia and overseas.

Asked what inspired him to create Coming Out 2, which earnt him the Koorie Heritage Trust’s (KHT) $10,000 top prize, Mr Pepper said he wanted to put everything into one painting.

“What inspired me was I wanted to create something that tells the story of my identity and growing up as an Aboriginal man,” he said.

“I’m gay in two worlds, in a positive cultural way, and I wanted to let people know that coming out in the 21st century; you can be who you are and be proud of what you do in your culture and where you’re from – to be a role model for your people.” 

Mr Pepper’s esteemed piece of artwork is also about passing on the lore of the land to the next generation, which he experienced with stories told to him by his late mother.

“Last year and the year before were sad and very dark for me,” he said of this experience in an interview with Andrew Stephens for KHT Voices. 

“Doing the bright colours and having support around me brought me to where I am. They [my parents] would be very proud of me now.”

“Moving on in healing, in art – that has helped me a lot to process what has happened and to move forward.” 

Mr Pepper said the spirals signifying the intergenerational passing on of knowledge “will get bigger and bigger and grow more.” 

Mr Pepper also wished to congratulate his fellow artists in the Koorie Art Show and the artists who exhibited their work in KHT’s Blak Jewellery exhibition.

“I see all the amazing artists making their art and it’s bringing back what we’ve learnt through our time, and I’d like to say congratulations and to keep doing what we’re doing to shape who we are as Aboriginal people,” he said.

“I’d also like to thank the Koorie Heritage Trust for the opportunity they’ve provided me.”

Mr Pepper is currently using an array of new art equipment he purchased using the prize money to produce new, “very different” artwork which will be exhibited at the KHT soon •

For more information: koorieheritagetrust.com.au

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