“…resilience‚ adaptability and survival… her personal journey, Aboriginal identity, and political issues.”
Nikki Carabetta was born in Kellerberrin, a small town east of Perth in Western Australia, in 1964. Carabetta’s great-grandfather on her father’s side was a Brinkin man from the Northern Territory who was removed with his sister to Western Australia as a child. His generation was the last of the Brinkin people and those that remained were absorbed into the Malak-Malak and the Ngangikurrunggurr people. He remained in Western Australia and ultimately married a Yamaji woman, and thus Carabetta identifies as both Yamaji and Brinkin, with ancestral country in both the Western Australian wheatbelt and the Darwin region of the Northern Territory. For the first seven years of her life, her family lived between a number of small towns in south-western Western Australia, moving according to where employment was available to Carabetta’s father, who worked as a shunter and then gang leader on the Commonwealth railways. However the family’s transient life was also due to her father’s quest to learn more about his heritage and to find his family. After spending time in Brisbane and Rockhampton in Queensland, Carabetta’s father traced his ancestry to the Brinkin people and the family moved to Darwin in 1974. Carabetta would go on to live between the Kullaluk community in Darwin and the cattle station town of Peppimenarti until she was eighteen and it is the Ngangikurrunggurr people of Peppimenarti, the mixed nations but predominantly Larrakeya and her Yamatji birth rights that she identifies with even today. In her early adult years she lived in Brisbane, where she studied nursing; Perth, where she worked in the Aboriginal Unit at Murdoch University; and Sydney, where she studied Law at the University of Sydney, and worked for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and the Aboriginal Legal Service. In 1996 she moved to Carabetta’s art practice has been informed by a range of experiences. She began dot painting with elder relatives and community members while she was living in Peppimenarti and Darwin as a child. While living in Sydney in the 1980s her engagement with the urban Aboriginal political movement exposed her to forms of politically expressive Aboriginal art being produced there at the time. However it was only in 1998 that she began to paint regularly. Carabetta’s employment as an Aboriginal cultural awareness officer for Normandy Mining and education officer at the South Australian Museum was cut short when a cycling accident prevented her from working, and led to her discovery that she suffered from fibromyalgia. She took up painting as a form of diversional therapy, and after being encouraged to further her art education by friends and family, enrolled at Taoundi College in 2004. She went on to complete an Advanced Diploma in Visual and Applied Arts in 2007.
Carabetta predominantly works with acrylic paint on canvas and wood, and she regards art as a means to maintain and share her culture. Stylistically she has been influenced by the Aboriginal artists that she has observed and been mentored by in the Kullaluk community and in Peppimenarti, as well as Op art which she encountered while studying at Taoundi College. Her works reflect upon her personal journey, Aboriginal identity, and political issues pertinent to Aboriginal people. They are inspired by childhood memories, her sense of attachment to different parts of Australia, and her sense of affiliation with the urban, rural and remote Aboriginal communities with which she has lived over the course
Carabetta has participated in a range of exhibitions since she completed her study, including ‘Tappa Tautta’ at the South Australian Museum (2006) and ‘Towards Reconciliation’ at Gallery M (2008). She held a solo exhibition at the Elderton winery as part of the South Australian Living Artists Festival (2008) and exhibited her work alongside that of Robert Dodd in ‘Coming Together’ at the Adelaide Town Hall and had a solo exhibition at the Norwood, Payneham and St. Peters and Norwood Town Hall for Reconciliation Week, 2008. In 2007 she was awarded the inaugural Indigenous Artist Award at the Campbelltown Art Exhibition in Adelaide, and was commissioned to paint a fibreglass dolphin titled Yerlo Parri for The Port Festival ‘Big Splash’ event, which was acquired by the Port Adelaide Information Centre. Carabetta regularly participates in the Art at the Hart Artists; Celtica Festival as a selling artist and also sells her work through the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute Shop. Besides continuing her art practice, she conducts workshops at the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre in Adelaide.
She has continued to participate in festivals such as the Spirit Festival, the Tandanya Artist Fair, SALA festival and the Adelaide Fringe, as well as running both art and cultural workshops and displaying art work both jointly and solo for NAIDOC week, Reconciliation and other cultural events. She has been added to the Dictionary of Australian Artists Online, which is an international website. She has also participated in Tour Down Under Markets and has artwork all over Australia and the World. She also does guest speaking, openings and cultural workshops all of which enhance her ability to share and keep alive her culture as done through her art work
Q. Have you lived in South Australia your whole life?
A. I have lived in Adelaide for over twenty years and consider it my home.
Q. How has South Australia influenced your art?
A. I have always loved art and grew up painting with family as an Aboriginal artist but did not make it as a career until I had an accident here in Adelaide, during my rehab I used art as diversional therapy for pain management. I then became engrossed with art and was encouraged to study, which I did at Taoundi College where I did an Advanced Diploma in visual arts. This in itself influenced my style and my experiences within the Aboriginal and mainstream culture here in SA has influenced my style, techniques and political representation.
Q. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
A. I realised that I wanted to be an artist when I started high school in Darwin, and wanted to be a Commercial Artist but was influenced by my father and grandmother to become a lawyer as they didn’t have the opportunity to get an education because they were Aboriginal.
Q. How would you describe your art?
A. My art is unique and is a combination of Aboriginal dot painting and op-art, I try to create the illusion of 3D or depth by manipulating dots, colour and medium. My art work is often political addressing issues facing my people, or the very least they tell a story from my culture or personal life.
Q. Is your art based on any particular themes &/or ideas?
A. My art is based in my culture and is an expression of it, it is also a way for me to retain my connection to my culture and “country” no matter where I am and is also a way of making people more aware of Aboriginal culture in a positive way.
Q. Where did you start your journey as a visual artist (formal education)?
A. I did art in high school including year 11 and entered the Darwin Show I 1982 where I won an award, I then pursued art through craft as a release from stress and then as a bonding method as a mother, before taking it up as a career in 2000.
Q. Who inspires you &/or who are your favourite artists at the moment?
A. I don’t really know who inspires me artistically; I have met many grassroots artists from all over Australia including remote communities and have been influenced by their stories and techniques, I admire Jandamara Cad, Albert Namajira and Vincent Van Gogh as well as Matisse, Lautrec, renaissance artists.
Q. Are there any other media you enjoy working with?
A. I like to weave, make jewellery and mix mediums on canvas.
Q. What projects are you currently working on, if any?
A. I am currently working on an exhibition for SALA and workshops for Reconciliation and NAIDOC weeks.
Q. Are there any aspects of your art that you find particularly challenging?
A. I find it very hard to get Gallery representation for my work as I am quote “not a real Aboriginal” or my work is too traditional. I also find that my artwork is often controversial in subject matter and is therefore not accepted by mainstream. I also have a medical condition which limits the amount of time I can spend doing any one thing for too long and dot painting is extremely time consuming.
Q. Which is more important to you, the symbolic meaning of your work or the visual presentation?
A. Both are important, the meaning behind my work is extremely important to me as it is pertinent to my culture as all Aboriginal art tells a story and is used traditionally as a record of our stories etc. and for teaching.
Q. Do you have favourite pieces from your portfolio? Why?
A. I do have some favourites one being a fibre glass dolphin called Yerlo Parri which is in the Port Adelaide Information Centre.
Q. Describe the ideal environment for your creative process.
A. I can create anywhere, but usually paint on the kitchen table or in the spare room, but love to go bush for inspiration.
Q. What does a typical work day look like for you as an artist?
A. This varies greatly from artist to artist as very few of us actually make a living from our art so we have normal day jobs or if you are really lucky like me you get to teach art, I run Aboriginal art workshops and am an Aboriginal Cultural Consultant.
Q. How has the media (traditional or social) influenced your art?
A. I often paint canvases in response to a negative image put out there by mainstream media about Aboriginal people.
Q. How would you describe the visual arts scene in South Australia?
A. South Australia values the arts in all of its forms and has several festivals and events surrounding Arts so in some ways it is very vibrant, evolving and alive, yet when it comes to Indigenous arts it is often overlooked and urban artists are disenfranchised as everyone wants “traditional” art.
Q. Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists?
A. I love working with other artists and have done several joint exhibitions and worked with artists from all over SA and Australia.
Q. Are you able to make a living as an artist?
A. I do make a living from art but not necessarily from selling paintings but from teaching.
Q. What advice would you give someone who aspires to a career in visual arts?
A. To have a backup plan, seriously though my best advice is to be involved with other artists, join a co-op, or a share studio as it can be lonely as an artist. It is also good to set a work ethic, even if you work from home set up a space to work in and try to put a set amount of time aside for work just like you would if you had a nine to five job.add text here
Wine Label painting for Wirra Wirra Vineyards, McLaren Vale, S.A.
Cover for Surf Livesaving in South Australia
CD cover for ABC Classics, featuring music by ASO’s principal tuba player Peter Whish Wilson
Cover for ‘I met God in Bermuda’, Author Steven Ogden.
Painting for the ACH group
United Nations Association of Australia, painting for official envelopes
CD cover artwork for Lithuanian Pop/Rock band Bet Bet
Magazine cover art for Dialogue UK
Semi-Finalist 2013 Doug Moran national Portrait Prize
Finalist 2012 Mortimer Art Prize for Surrealism
Finalist 2011 Nora Heysen Art Prize for Still Life, SA.
Finalist 2009 Whyalla Art Prize.
Finalist ANL Maritime Art Prize, Vic.
Finalist 2008 Fleurieu Peninsula Vistas Prize, SA.
Finalist 2008 Corangamarah Art Prize, VIC.
Finalist 2007 Whyalla Art Prize.
Finalist 2007 Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize.
Short listed for The Adelaide Fringe 2007 Poster Competition.
Finalist 2006 the Fleurieu Peninsula Water Prize.
Finalist 2006 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.
Finalist 2006 Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize.
Cathedral Art Show 2005 Winner Best observation of human nature.
Finalist 2005 Heysen Prize for Australian Landscape.
Finalist 2005 Spirit of the Outback Waltzing Matilda Art Competition.
Finalist 2004 Doug Moran Portrait Prize.
Finalist 2004 Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize.
Finalist 2004 Fleurieu Peninsula Biennale Art Prize for Australian Landscape.
Finalist 2004 grey masts Art Prize. (highly commended)
Australian Embassy Rome, Italy
Adelaide University (Roseworthy College)
South Australian Department for Emergency Services
Smorgan Family Melbourne
St Hildas Anglican Girls School, Mosman W.A.
St Aloysius College, Adelaide S.A.
Nichi engineering, Malaysia
ACH Group S.A.
Government House S.A.
United Nations Association of Australia A.C.T.
Common Ground S.A.
Holstein Australia VIC.