A lover, a fighter, an artist and a mother, Kate Constantine—otherwise known as Konstantina—brings her experiences as a fair-skinned Koori woman to life in her new exhibition, Caste Collection.
Inspired by the vitriolic treatment of Aboriginal people of mixed heritage in race conversations in Australia, Caste Collection takes anger, frustration and hurt and splatters it across the canvas.
“It was so horrible [to create] but it was really liberating in the end,” said Constantine.
“This felt really personal. It felt like it was my response to all the things I hadn’t said back to people who had been rude to me. All those times you hold your tongue, those casual comments, it was all of those built up that just exploded onto a canvas.”
Caste Collection consists of three categories. Each category is different, telling its own story and standing on its own in colour, shape and design. The pieces juxtapose one another, sitting awkwardly but telling a powerful story.
“It is supposed to be shocking; you’re supposed to look at it [and feel uncomfortable] and, I know this is horrible, but I hope white people feel uncomfortable. I hope they feel so uncomfortable that it starts a conversation,” she said.
In the past year, Constantine has moved her art into two categories.
“One is my really contemporary, very politically focused practice … and the other side of my practice is prettier and more whimsical but still grapples with life and motherhood and being a fair-skinned Aboriginal woman,” she said.
“All my practice is rooted in my identity and my search for where I fit.”
“I feel like I constantly—as a fair-skinned woman—have to explain myself, whether it is literally, rhetorically or metaphorically.”
“I’m always having to describe what my life is like when other people don’t.
“My husband is half Italian, and he says that no one ever asks him where he is from … But when I say I’m Aboriginal, people say, ‘Oh really! I never would have guessed’ or ‘You’re really pretty’.”
A proud Gadigal artist, Constantine lives with her husband and two boys on Bundjalung Country. She navigates her frustrations with art, activism and connection to community and family.
“I’m a mum, I think that’s the easiest way to navigate anger. You can’t be angry when you’re a mum, you can’t bring up my children in an angry home. I need to work through that, and my painting is around 90 percent of working through that,” she said.
“Hanging out with mob up here and … spending time trying to be a part of change, you know organising things like the Black Lives Matter rally being a part of that and doing posters for free. It allows me to feel like I can contribute, and by contributing I feel less isolated.
“It is too hard to live angrily all the time.”
Constantine hopes the Black Lives Matter movement and the push toward change will have a lasting impact for the future of her children.
“I want them to live in a world where they have friends that want to come over and talk about culture,” she said.
“I want them to break up some ochre for my paintings with them, to share. I don’t want it to be one dimensional, I want them to share it with their friends whoever they are.”
Constantine is also encouraging more non-Indigenous people to invest in Aboriginal storytelling; to promote Aboriginal artwork, literature and music to the wider world.
“You have Aboriginal artwork, whether it is from the desert or from a contemporary artist like me. Have that in your home, so people come over and go, ‘Oh, so you like this stuff?’ You become an advocate and an ambassador,” she said.
“It’s about finding an artist or a story that you identify with, bring that home, showing your kids. Buying books, it is always an education process.”
To view Caste Collection, visit: https://www.ninbella.com/collections/konstantina.
By Rachael Knowles