Meet Judge June Mills: Larrakia Elder, Artist and Activist
To celebrate the Bluethumb Art Prize ’18 already surpassing last year’s number of entries (which at 1140 was more than the Archibald Prize) and still with over 6 weeks left to enter, we decided to catch up with our Darwin-based judge, June Mills.
A well-known Darwin identity, June Gunluckiinimul (her tribal name) Mills is a Larrakia Elder and traditional owner of Larrakia land. Larrakia is the local Indigenous tribe, whose land includes Darwin and the surrounding area.
She’s best known as a singer-songwriter and Indigenous rights activist. In 2005 she recorded her debut album, I’ll Be The One, and was awarded Female Musician of the Year at the Indigenous Music Awards. More recently she’s become an accomplished visual artist, known for her paintings and public art projects, such as her Memorial to Stolen Children, which saw June paint 100 pieces of children’s clothing to remember the Stolen Generation. This is just one of many examples where June’s passion for activism meets with her passion for art.
“My artistic output is geared to cultural maintenance and transferal of knowledge,” explains June, “particularly bolstering our children’s sense of identity and their role and place within their traditional landscape.”
June lives for children and passing on her knowledge. She works actively with youth to inspire creativity while also teaching cultural significance through her artistic practice. “My art is a reinforcement of spiritual cultural law,” says June. “When I draw the crocodile, it’s informing and re-informing our children that it’s our Totem, and all that’s associated with that will be represented by me talking about the artwork. When I give my grannies (June’s term of endearment for her grandchildren) a crocodile singlet or dress, I tell them stories and what it means to our people; that we are the crocodile.”
After helping to judge the inaugural Bluethumb Art Prize, June was keen to return to the panel for 2018. “I found judging the prize very inspiring because I’m an artist myself. To view art from people of all walks of life was incredible and gave me lots of ideas. This year Bluethumb has been partnering with art centres all over Australia, so I’m looking forward to seeing more Indigenous art in the 2018 prize.”
June thinks art prizes and exhibitions are important for emerging artists because they connect the art community. “Essentially they are a self-gratification activity, but it’s wonderful to put your work out to exhibit for other people to enjoy. Art lovers and art creatives get together and interact – everybody loves going to see other people’s work – and if it weren’t for these initiatives and spaces, how would that happen? We’d just stay with our art in the back room of our houses on our own. They give you more inspiration, more ideas and more reason to create something new.”
Speaking of connection, June is excited about the possibilities platforms like Bluethumb are creating. “Accessibility is vital as it has the ability to eliminate the middleman. Artists can now have control of their own presentation and careers.” There is also the potential “for Indigenous people to create some form of financial independence and career”.
Many people believe that art can help foster more understanding and appreciation of Indigenous cultures among non-Indigenous residents of Australia, and June agrees. “Whether Indigenous or any other kind, we experience an emotional response when we are exposed to art. With Indigenous art, if it draws you in, it draws you into the story. It automatically creates a bridge of understanding and communication. Art opens up the discussion and has the potential to invite people into a whole community. People reacting to my art, music, murals – whatever, they are essentially meeting me and are introduced to the Larrakia culture and whole realm of Indigenous experience. It draws you in on an artistic level, but has the potential to go further and deeper.
The Bluethumb Art Prize is our annual award that aims to raise the profile of Australian artists by supporting, recognising and celebrating their incredible talent and diversity. Australian artists are invited to enter an original signature piece that represents their unique artistic practice by 30th January. Click here for more information and to enter.