We recently took the time to get to know a little bit more about the life and work of talented local Indigenous artist Sheldon Harrington, who as well as being a scholarship winner and Bachelor of Indigenous Knowledge Honours student at Southern Cross University, also works for the university’s Gnibi Cillege of Indigenous Australian Peoples. His company SJH Kreations is the umbrella under which he creates his works, including painting, textiles, digital art, traditional artefact making and more.
Can you please give us a little bit of background about your arts practice?
I have been painting for my whole life but particularly over the past 15 years. As a young local Widjabul Artist (Lismore) from the Bundjalung Nation on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. I have been lucky enough to have been brought up in a culturally strong family and immersed in strong cultural grounding and practice my entire life. Continuing to learn and share the knowledge that has been passed down through my family. The importance of connection to our Country, our family, our community and our way of being has been taught to me by my grandparents, parents, Uncle’s and Aunty’s and the wider family in many forms of oral and visual language.
These teachings now permeate through my artworks and visual designs, and pay respect and celebrate the survival and continence of our knowledge and dreaming. My art is more than just tangible objects, it also encompasses values, kinship systems, ways of learning and teaching, communicating and decision making through our ways of knowing, doing, being and seeing. As Aboriginal Knowledge is alive, living and moving within the country that it belongs to. In many cases, the artworks and designs are multi-layer and trans-dimensional knowledge systems. Knowing the relational understanding between Country and the custodial ontology emerging through the principled base that continues. This is the basis for our understanding, this is what informs the principles and the way we interact with them.
What is your role at the Southern Cross University’s Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian peoples, and what are the college’s main functions and outcomes?
Currently I am working in Gnibi as a professional staff member. My role isn’t tied down to just working as admin, but extends across the whole unit. Supporting community based research, community based projects such as the ‘Our Words’ Bundjalung language app and school support program. Academic support through the units in the Bachelor of Indigenous Knowledge, guest lecturing and curriculum design.
The main functions of Gnibi College is to deliver culturally safe, dynamic, innovative and a better understanding of Indigenous world views by exploring past and present histories in a culturally diverse and supportive environment. Aiming to increase awareness of Aboriginal and other Indigenous peoples’ histories, ways of living and social commitments while raising understanding between all people of matters relevant to a shared and valued future.
Both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are offered at Lismore campus and online to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Students experience a teaching and learning process that is founded on principles of social justice, cultural integrity, inclusion and healing.
How has your art practice grown and evolved over the last few years?
My art career took off about two years ago when a staff member at Gnibi approached me to pull together an interactive installation for Reconciliation Week in the University art gallery space in the library. My career as a professional artist really just took off from there. I had passion for art, that’s for sure, but I didn’t take it serious until then.
I went on a holiday to New Zealand after the interactive installation and when I came back there were design jobs and commissions waiting for me. My business has kept expanding from there. Everything from small logo designs, multi wall murals to digital projection and designing highway overpasses.
What did it mean to you to receive The Lord’s Taverners Indigenous Knowledge Honours Scholarship?
I left applying for The Lord’s Taverners Indigenous Knowledge Honours Scholarship until the last day it was due as the email simply slipped my mind. When I was made the offer, I was quite surprised and happy as I had never received anything like that before. The scholarship helps to ease some of the financial pressures that come with studying. The funds have been really supportive and have gone towards my student fees. But it is more than that really. The scholarship frees up mental space so that I can just focus on my Honours year.
Although the scholarship supports me personally, it is so much more than that. It is not really about me or for me, it stamps a new pathway for my community into education. This is something I really care about, and as part of my work at Gnibi, I work with young people in high school and encourage them to consider their careers and coming to University. I encourage them to give it go and tell them about my own experience. Through all of this what I have discovered is that I really like writing academically. I now know how to structure my writing whether I am working with high schools, in business or at University.
Can people see your work somewhere, and how do people follow your journey online?
Yes, most definitely. My artwork is in quiet a few spaces. A mural in the Koorimail Headquaters, throughout Gnibi’s offices and soon to be on furniture. Also via my social media pages @sjhkreations and eventually website.
I hope in the vary near future to able display my works a lot more freely through exhibitions, resources for education, respectful product and communications design.
Are you involved in this year’s NAIDOC week in your capacity as an artist?
I am, currently working on a mural for Alstonville High School for their NAIDOC celebrations and hoping to have a few smaller works ready a couple of local exhibitions. Ideally would usually hold art workshops at different community NAIDOC days.
Is there anything else you would like people to know?
I would love to dedicate this to mum, Dianne Harrington. She sadly passed away this Wednesday from a very strong and inspirational battle with cancer.
Words cannot respectfully or accurately describe what you have gifted us, but know we will always make you proud.