Australian Indigenous artist Jonathan Jones was born in 1978, and grew up travelling between Sydney and the country. “My family is Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi, some of the most beautiful county in central NSW.”
“It’s worth remembering that this entire county has been lived within for over 60,000 years,” says Jonathan. “Countless generations. And every leaf, every rock and every river and tree has been named and touched for eons.”
To be respectful of these connections, when working he connects with local communities and uses local material that have a pre-existing connection to the site.
Jones works across an incredible diversity of mediums and locations. From light to rocks, teacups to text, and from carparks to forests, galleries and airports. “Site determines much of my work. In a Western context this is called ‘working site specifically’, but in a Wiradjuri or Kamilaroi world view this is being respectful, acknowledging country, the traditional owners, the history, and making sense of my place within that complex living history.”
Jones has been a practicing artist for almost 20 years, exhibiting his work nationally and internationally at acclaimed institutions such as the National Gallery in Canberra, the Palazzo delle Papesse Contemporary Art Centre in Italy, and Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art in Canada.
As well as physical material, Jones has a passion for using light in his work.
“Light is both defined and undefined, as in the light is obviously produced by a light bulb or a tube or LED nodes that create a mark, a visible source of light. But the light that is emitted travels and moves through space, joins and connects with other light, connects with the space, and operates as one. I often liken this to how an individual is within a community. We can see an individual but the contribution of that individual is what makes up a community.”
He particularly enjoys fluorescent tubes since they create a line of light which can be used, “as a drawer uses a pencil.” “Lines are particularly significant within Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi communities as most art practices from our region can be seen and understood within the frame of lines.”
Another source of inspiration is Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi shields, which he believes are “created with care and left as gifts for us, the next generation to learn from.”
Collaboration is central to his practice. His favourite people to work with are elders from his own community. “Last year I was lucky enough to work with the Wiradjuri elders in Bathurst, which was a huge honour. We collaborated on an exhibition to tell the story of the Bathurst Wars and to remind people that we have not gone away, and that we are still fighting for our country, and elders are still passing on their knowledge.”
Jones is now incorporating more language in his work, particularly Wiradjuri, while learning it from Uncle Stan Grant. Grant has worked tirelessly for years teaching and recording the language, writing a dictionary, making educational books and tapes and even recording an app. Jones describes Grant as “an extraordinary hero,” and one of his works even featured a recording of Grant singing ‘Silent Night’ in Wiradjuri.
In the future Jones is looking forward to working with John Kaldor at Kaldor Public Art Projects on a major project based in the Royal Botanical Gardens called ‘Barrangal Dyara’ (‘Skin and Bones’). Jones describes Kaldor as “Australia’s most important public art organisation” and that the project will be “a defining moment” for him.
The project will use Aboriginal stories and language to recall the Garden Palace, a major public building in the gardens which defined late 19th century Sydney which has now disappeared and been forgotten.
When asked how being an Indigenous Australian has influenced his career, Jones says, “This question is difficult to answer, it’s like asking ‘how has being a man affected my career?’ Culture is what you are, it’s the way you think and the way you work and the way you live your life.”
“Being Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi does mean you are part of something much bigger that Australia has yet to understand. We are the world’s oldest bread makers, the world’s oldest axe makers, we made the world’s oldest man-made structures, and I could go on, but in short we are the world’s oldest living culture, and as Aunty Julie Freeman from the south coasts always says to me, that is extraordinary.”
Jones’ advice to aspiring young artists is, “Love what you’re doing, surround yourself with good people, and don’t give up”.
All images courtesy of Jonathan Jones. Visit his website for much more!