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Celebrated artist nurtures Ngarrindjeri culture through SALA Festival

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The South Australian Living Arts (SALA) Festival is back for another year to showcase the artworks of almost 8,000 artists through nearly 700 exhibitions held across Adelaide and regional South Australia this month.

Many talented Indigenous artists will display their artwork during the festival, including Cedric Varcoe a proud, Ngarrindjeri contemporary artist who was brought up on a mission in the Yorke Peninsula.

Mr Varcoe said he began painting at a young age after being inspired by the stories and culture of Ngarrindjeri country.

"I learnt just by watching my uncles paint and draw, and my aunties used to make necklaces while my mum used to get us to paint on rocks, it was something that we [had] always done," Mr Varcoe said.

"It brought us together, it was something that I really enjoyed doing because I was never good at reading or writing at school. Art was where I was more at peace."

Mr Varcoe has exhibited his work since 1997 and has won multiple awards including the Malka Art Prize in 2010 and 2014. He was also nominated for NAIDOC SA Artist of the Year in 2018.

Better World Arts in Adelaide has helped Mr Varcoe exhibit his artwork in galleries across Australia.

The organisation also supports his work and his family by assisting him to develop and sell a range of items with his artwork printed on them.

Mr Varcoe said Better World Arts had helped him greatly with his career and in supplying artefacts which helped share his culture with others.

"My main focus was to share our culture and our stories, there are a lot of tourists visiting our areas every day or there are people that live in the area that don't know about our spiritual side to them areas," Mr Varcoe said.

"If I can spread our stories and our culture to someone that is going to appreciate it then I feel like my duty to nurture our culture and share it has been done."

Mr Varcoe said he strongly believes art helps connect people to their origins and tells how his ancestors created the land, while also sharing the message of respecting all living things.

'Ngurunderi Dreaming, Ngarrindjeri Ramindjeri Dreaming of our Ruwe Country' 2019 acrylic on canvas by Cedric Varcoe. Photo supplied.

"I do quite a [few] workshops and story-telling, weaving, painting and murals for schools and a lot of my own work to represent our stories from our country," Mr Varcoe said.

"I find a lot of them [Indigenous children] are from a range of different backgrounds like Stolen Generations and some that have grown up in the city that have had no connection because they might be third or second generation away from their country."

In 2018, Mr Varcoe completed a mural inside a Port Pirie Police Station cell to inspire young people to have a more positive outlook on life and to let them know they matter.

"It was to give them inspiration whilst being in there. They may not feel that they are accepted in the community, they may have made a mistake and feel that their whole life is over in that moment," Mr Varcoe said.

Mr Varcoe said a lot of Indigenous youth struggle with issues such as identity and connection to country.

"[They are] warriors inside, they are from this ancient culture but they are missing it. It is like it is resting and when they find it again it recharges the batteries and they feel that sense of pride and connection to it," Mr Varcoe said.

"Once they do connect back to their culture and they find that identity from inside themselves through culture, dance, art and all that belongs with it, then that pride's coming back to them."

SALA Festival runs from August 1-31, for more information about the festival and Cedric Varcoe visit:

By Jade Bradford


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