About Teho Ropeyarn
Teho Ropeyarn Life Bio
D.O.B: 21st, September 1988
Community: Injinoo, Northern Peninsula Area, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland
Clan: Angkamuthi- North West Cape York, Yadhaykana- North East Cape York
Blood Ties: Woppaburra – Great Keppel Island, Butchulla – Fraser Island, Murray Island, Badu Island and Moa Island
First and foremost I pay my respects to my family on my father’s mother’s bloodline who are direct descendants from the Injinoo Aboriginal Clans of Angkamuthi and Yadahikana Clans where the traditional stories are told through my artistic practice.
I pay respects to my guiding elders who grant me permission to recreate stories told to us when we were young: Mum Mary Eseli – Angkamuthi elder, cultural and language teacher and story keeper, Athe Shorty (Muen Lifu) of the Eracan Peoples of Gudang, elder, culture and language teacher and story keeper of the Gudang Clan, Papa Rusty Williams of the Yadaikana People, east coast. Furthermore, I also would like to pay my respects and acknowledgement to my fellow lnjinoo Aboriginal people, lnjinoo lkya Language and Culture, my country, my elders, Apudthama Nation; Gudang Clan (Pajinka – tip of Australia), Yadaikana (Escape River, Captian Billy Landing), Atambay Clan (McDonnell, Cockatoo Creek) and lastly Angkamuthi (West coast-Seven Rivers Tribal People) where my Grandfather Martin Ropeyam originates from.
Further acknowledgements in respect to: Fathers line; Badu lsland, Moa lsland, Mabuyag Island and Murray lsland. Mother’s line; Woppaburra Peoples of Great Keppel Island (Konomie Richards Decendants) and Batchalla Peoples of Fraser Island.
Family and Community:
My name is Teho Ropeyarn. I was born in Mount Isa on the 21st of September 1988.
My Father George Ropeyarn is of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage from the Angkamuthi and Yadhaykana clan from Injinoo on the mainland, Badu, Moa Island and Murray Island in the Torres Strait. My Mother Jennifer Ropeyarn (nee Griffin) is of Aboriginal heritage from Great Keppel Island (Woppaburra people), Fraser Island (Batchulla people). My mother’s Australian ancestry derives from Germany and Denmark.
I am the third eldest in my family. My siblings are Kali McKeown, Yanti Ropeyarn, Maratha Ropeyarn and Tanay Ropeyarn.
I was raised in Injinoo (formerly known as Cowal Creek) nestled beside Cowal Creek and the sea on the coast 45km west of the tip of Australia. Injinoo is home to the traditional owners of the northern part of Cape York from Captain Billy’s Landing and across to Skardon River and north to Pajinka (the very tip of Australia). The vast land mass divides into four clans groups who are the Ankgamuthi – Seven Rivers Tribe, west coast, Yadhaykana – east coast, Atambaya – central and Gudang in the north to include Pajinka. These four clans congregated at their own decision approximately in the 1900s and decided to live together in harmony. This is where the community of Injinoo built. There are five communities that make up the Northern Peninsula Area including Injinoo, Umagico, Bamaga, New Mapoon and Seisia.
I found interest in art when I was in Primary School in Injinoo doing drawings and working with clay where I made a clay trophy and painted it in green and yellow. It got serious in my Secondary years and I selected senior visual art, as one of subjects and that is where I took interest in art and knew I could make something out of it. In grade ten, my teacher was Marina McDougall who was a passionate teacher. She taught us printmaking, using colour and working with clay as well as many other fun stuff. I mostly enjoyed the practical work of creating and the designing aspects of art. I learnt a lot from my cousin Eileen Ropeyarn who knew how to draw and design contemporary patterns into the body of animals and this is where it all began for my art.
I made my first large coiled vase pot in grade ten which stands approximately 40cm tall. I was honoured to have the Late. Thancoupie who came to our house with family friends and comment on my ceramic vase and invited me down to Weipa to work with her anytime I wanted to during the school holidays.
I completed senior schooling at then Bamaga State High School now known as the Northern Peninsula Area State College situated in the town of Bamaga.
During my senior schooling in grade ten, eleven and twelve, I applied to the Nura Gili Indigenous Winter School program at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney to experience university life and explore possible future study in Sydney after school. I was successful to attend the program and flew thousands of kilometers with four other students who got selected to attend the program to a city I thought was out of the question. I was privileged to attend the program in grade ten, eleven and twelve and only participated in the College Of Fine Arts (COFA) program for the three years. I liked COFA from day one and Sydney was exciting. I told myself that I must go to Sydney to study art at COFA and attend university after school. At the time whilst I was studying art at COFA, I did not know who Van Gough was, Edgar Degar, John Glover, and Paul Gauguin etc. However, over the years at COFA, I gained knowledge on the old masters and their works.
I completed high school in 2005 and in 2006 I began my undergraduate study at COFA. I moved to Sydney and spent four years studying fulltime from 2006 to 2009 undergoing a Degree in Fine Arts at the College of Fine Arts – University of New South Wales, Sydney. My major was in painting and my elective classes were in printmaking and ceramics. I remember completing my introductory class in jewellery and I received a high distinction (HD) mark. I told my sister Yanti about the mark and she gave me the biggest smile. I was confused and as I did not understand the marking system. Everything was new to me at the time. She finally said that’s the highest mark you can get for your subjects. I was stunned but knowing I worked on a brooch based on Eddie Mabo’s legacy was well worth the mark.
One of my goals whilst studying were to pass every single class regardless if the mark was just a pass or a high distinction I was happy either way. I passed all my subjects and did not fail one. I was grateful to have the support of family and friends over the years and Nura Gili Indigenous Unit at (UNSW) and the Cape York Institute of Policy and Leadership grant to support me whilst studying in Sydney. The years went by swiftly after I commenced second year at COFA. I completed my study by the end of 2009 and I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in May 2010.
After studying, I moved back to my home Injinoo to engage with culture and life after four years of living away in the huge city of Sydney.
I worked as a Teachers Aide at my old school and began carving lino blocks at home. Because of the weather, it was more cost effective to buy lino blocks and carvings tools and knowing they would survive Cape York’s humidity and heat. Paints, canvas and materials were expensive and would not last in the weather. Linocut carvings was something different and because I did a lot in school and an elective class at with Michael Kempson I wanted to try and develop works further. The first major work was ‘Great Dividing Range Dreaming’ and what impressed me most was the control of how you carve the lino, how you design the lino and most importantly keeping in mind how it will look when printed.
I moved to Cairns late 2010, where I found my fiancé and together we have a beautiful daughter who was born seven days before my birthday in 2011.
I applied to for the Indigenous Development Officer (Visual Arts and Crafts) position at UMI Arts and was successful. Through this position I’ve worked with many emerging and professional artist in the Far North and managed the Exhibition Ready program and Side By Side Workshop program that assist artist in preparing and presenting for their exhibition at UMI Arts.
At the same time I was successful in my application to the Australia Council for the Arts – Jump National mentoring program for young and emerging artists. My mentor was Master Printer Theo Tremblay. Over the six months as a Jump Mentee, I worked with Theo at Editions Tremblay studio and gained knowledge on the different forms of printmaking as well as taking into account the development of my work through printmaking. I’ve been working been carving lino and vinyl blocks since I left college.
I was also successful in my application to the Australia Council for the Arts – ArtStart program. The grant gives art graduates the chance to build an income-generating career in their chosen field after studying.
My motivation for doing art most importantly is my culture, heritage, totems, identity, community and the environment around me. As Indigenous peoples of Australia where the Australian lifestyle is changing rapidly, our culture is slowly deteriorating due to our multi-cultural society. Practicing art is one way of maintaining and developing culture. Through this technique, it will preserve my culture in one way for years to come.
The major theme in my artwork is animals. This includes totems and animals from my region. I am now focusing on issues affecting culture and how culture is disappearing, how the loss of stories over the years is hard to piece together and the loss of the language.
I am currently working on a new body of work, where I’ve developed my personal form of style and found my rhythm through the medium of printmaking. This body of work with guidance from my Elders will bring to life stories that have been passed on to us during cultural lessons in primary school, with an emphasis focused on preserving all aspect of Injinoo culture, traditions and beliefs, art, stories and language of our people from my home community of Injinoo.
At COFA I participated in several exhibitions and showcased some of my art in the College students’ exhibitions. One of the exhibitions was ‘Nanima’ which was an Indigenous students’ exhibition for the Indigenous students who attended COFA. The other exhibition was an Aboriginal Artist’s exhibition at St Scholasticas College in Sydney, which was a fundraiser for the Indigenous foundation for Indigenous girls who attended boarding school. I was an entrant into the Gab Titui Indigenous Art Awards in 2009 and have recently designed the new logo for the Northern Peninsula Area (N.P.A) State College. I was involved in community projects, which was part of the Northern Peninsula Area State College’s – Yumpla Cultural Festival. I worked with the College’s art students to design and paint murals at the Senior Campus in Bamaga and the Injinoo Primary campus in Injinoo. One of the murals is now the letterhead in the N.P.A College’s section of the Torres News.
I had my first solo exhibition at UMI Arts in October 2010. This exhibition showcased works across several mediums including painting, oil painting, printmaking and ceramics. All the works were created during my study in Sydney. I was a part of the LEAP Program through Theo Tremblay who showed work with many other Torres Strait Islander artists at Cairns Regional Gallery.
I’ve live in Cairns with my wife, daughter and son. Outside of work is where I try to find time to create new works and continue to develop ideas and concept for future works. At this stage vinylcut carving is my main focus because I could not paint like the way I carve and I wouldn’t even give it a go. Although as a Graduate of COFA majoring in Painting and Drawing, I am fine-tuning my brains back into painting and will be practicing painting in the near future as well as continue my work through the printmaking medium.
I’ve participated in many exhibitions since 2011 and won few art awards in particular the 2013 Telstra Art Awards works on paper category.