River Child


River Child by Kat Bell, created for Renmark Paringa District Hospital, SA, 2019.

So one of the things I've realised about being an artist are the ups and downs, the many emotions that come with creating a piece and then having to let it go. I've done a lot of artworks in my time, believe me (storage is a massive problem). Letting go of them, doesn't get any easier, no matter how many you do. The one consolation is knowing that they are going somewhere to be enjoyed by others. They don't get to just sit packed away, back to back in my studio or garden shed.


The last few days have been spent creating a rather large piece for a local hospital in my region. The piece was gruelling work, long hours and a true labour of love. Not just because I'm slightly chuffed with the end result, but because it has a real purpose and significance behind it. Pieces like this mean a lot to me because I get to represent my people, my culture, my heritage and my loved ones and their stories. The depth of pride and joy that goes with this opportunity is beyond words. I will however try to articulate to some extent, it's importance.


When someone asks you to create a piece, not just as an artist, but as an Aboriginal artist, there is a great deal of responsibility that comes with that. Questions abound as to whether I am the right person to do this work in this place (if it is not on my ancestral land). Will I do justice to my people and to the traditional people of this land? Will the piece appropriately represent my people and the traditional people of this land? How do I ensure I pay respect to the traditional people of this land? There are so many questions.


I have often had to say no to similar requests for Aboriginal artworks and suggest other Aboriginal artists that are of this land, to do the work in my place. I have passed on so many opportunities in fear of offending the traditional people of this land. It is not easy. However, as I ponder these questions, with age and maturity and a sterner eye on what I have to bring to this community, my home and my forever place, I am more at ease with affording myself the opportunity to create these pieces for my community.


I love the Riverland, my home, my forever place. Its beauty and tranquillity is plentiful. I often take time out to enjoy the river or bush and its native animals and flora. I don't take it for granted. It is my home, my community and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute as an Aboriginal person. I am a strong proponent and advocate for the betterment of the lives, health, well-being and education of Aboriginal people. And with this in mind I accepted this opportunity to create a piece that incorporates Aboriginal themes and designs and is bright, colourful and welcoming for Aboriginal people. The piece titled "River Child", is similar to my piece "We are all welcome here", that was created for a local mental health service. Both organisations sought to have a piece that would give a greater sense of being welcome and safe in their "clinical" spaces. Hence the similar design and approach was taken. I hope that my pieces have achieved their goals and vision for their spaces. But more importantly, I hope that Aboriginal people visiting these spaces do feel more welcome and that my pieces in part have contributed to this feeling. Obviously, it is up to the service providers to truly make their spaces welcoming and safe for the clients/consumers of their services. My cont