Allan Sumner is a talented South Australian artist. He is a descendant of three Aboriginal peoples being the Ngarrindjeri people from the lower river and lakes of the Murray River along the Coorong, the Adelaide plains Kaurna people and the Yankunytjatjara people from central Australia.
The Nunkuwarrin Yunti Tackling Tobacco Team contracted Ochre Dawn who approached Allan to create an artwork to illustrate the story that Nunkuwarrin Yunti and the community share in tackling tobacco. Drawing upon his own experience, 20 years of working in health, tobacco control and on personal health battles “It came to me very easy, to create the artwork” said Allan.
“The Tackling Tobacco Teams new artwork is a contemporary view which has traditional elements present, in particular the symbol in reference to the pregnant mothers and children are popular across many cultural groups. Some of the other symbols, you wouldn’t necessarily see in Aboriginal artwork but they do have meaning. These new symbols will be used into the future. I think that’s how Aboriginal artwork is bold, it was never ever the same before, the fact is, it’s always taken someone to sit down and recreate something to give it meaning to say this is what I want it to represent, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. My artwork in years to come, my children’s children are going to say ‘that symbol means this’. Aboriginal culture is living and always transforming, it’s never set, it changes over a long period of time, and I’m just a part of creating that culture.”
“Quitting smoking isn’t easy and it’s a narrow path. In the Tackling Tobacco Team artwork, I came up with the idea to illustrate that narrow path. There’s always barriers to why people can’t give up the smokes, so I thought it’s like a river, to get across the river there is narrow paths, then there’s stepping stones in the river, you have to find those stepping stones of support to get across to the fresh air on the other side”. Further “I wanted the artwork to be vibrant and eye catching so that people stop and take a look. I wanted to really portray the messages well, therefore I put a lot of thought into the descriptions of the symbols used, so that when people look at the artwork they understand the full meaning and story behind it”. Allan explained that the artwork being contemporary in nature containing new stories, cultural symbols and significant meaning, will continue to be linked to Aboriginal history, it will in time become a very valuable story to the viewers.
“Our community strengths are in yarning and the grape vine, talking to each other and finding those change champions in the community that can tell their story. Our community is resilient. Our health, children, family and the cost of smoking are huge motivators to be smoke free”. Allan hopes that by creating this artwork, it will help Nunkuwarrin Yunti and the community to tell its story.