10 May 2023

Award-winning artist inspired by her majestic Cape York country

| Matt Nicholls
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IF Cape York clan groups had a European monarchy system then Naomi Hobson would have royal blood flowing through her veins.

The Coen resident is a Creek on her mother’s side.

If you know anything about Coen then you know the Creeks.

They are a proud and powerful Kaantju family with a lot of history in Cape York Peninsula.

On Naomi’s father’s side is the Hobsons, a proud Umpila mob from Lockhart River.

Just like the Creeks, the Hobson name carries plenty of weight throughout the region.

Naomi knows exactly where she comes from and fights hard to protect her heritage, culture and – most importantly – her country.

It has been her traditional lands that have inspired her to become one of Cape York’s most renowned modern artists.

Her list of awards and acknowledgements are seemingly endless for an artist who only put her first works on exhibition 11 years ago.

The tally grows annually due to the fact she has branched out to photography to complement her traditional paintings.

The talent and flair came from her late father, who died when Noami was still a little girl.

“The last memories I have of him carving wood into little sculpture pieces; dolls and cars for me and my brother,” she said.

“We’d collect flowers and spend a lot of time on country. He was very creative around making things from his environment.

“We didn’t have much money growing up so everything was provided from our country.”

She also found inspiration through storytelling.

“My grandfather on my mother’s side was a storyteller. I spent a lot of time with him and my grandmother,” Naomi recalled.

“He would tell us, me and my cousins and brothers and sisters, stories about the landscape and the dreaming stories all connecting and how we’re all connected.

“That fascinated me. And still today, in my paintings you see the lines that are all about the journey, and take you into a moment. And then it’s also about grounding you, too, in your presence.”

For the girl who went to boarding school at Mount St Bernard College in Herberton, making a living out of art was never a dream.

In fact, her mum, who went to the same school, tried to talk her out of art.

“Everyone knows the history of an artist. It’s struggling. It’s hard. It’s repetitive,” Naomi said.

“My mum would be like, ‘I don’t know, you’re going to have to have a real job’. Still today, I could solely live off my art right now, but I choose to work.

“I’m an active person. I like to keep busy. I don’t think about art as income or the money around it.”

Although she travels between Cairns and Coen regularly, the Cape is still home for the 42-year-old.

Without time in the bush and the natural landscapes from her window, Naomi would struggle to find the inspiration for her art.

“Growing up and living in the Cape, I mean, what a place to be inspired by,” she said.

“The culture we have, the diverse landscape.

“I’ve always been proud of my heritage and where I come from.

“I paint based on what I’m feeling, and a lot of that is, through reflecting stories of home in my environment, and being proud of who I am and where I come from.

“I guess that’s what kind of drove me into being an artist.

“As an artist, it is all about having those feelings and expressing it visually.

“My art reflects my country. I’m inspired by the diverse landscape and the adventures that I travelled with my grandparents; learning about how to live and understand the landscape in my environment.

“I really treasure that and now I’m sharing it with the rest of the country.”

Not just the rest of the country but also the rest of the world.

Naomi has sold pieces across the globe.

Cape York’s reputation as an Indigenous art hub continues to grow and she is riding the wave.

The likes of Aurukun sculptures, Pormpuraaw ghost nets and the incredible works from Lockhart River’s gallery drive the region’s reputation.

But the pioneer was the late Thancoupie, a woman years ahead of her time.

The Napranum artist, named Gloria James at birth, put the Cape on the map with her much-prized ceramic art.

Thancoupie would then go on to be an award-winning teacher as she mentored Indigenous artists from across the country.

Naomi said she didn’t know the legendary woman as an artist, but crossed paths with her during land rights meetings.

“She was involved heavily with Cape York Land Council and I’m involved with the family meetings, so I met her at all the land council meetings,” she said.

“I think the thing we have in common is storytelling.

“She was a great storyteller and she spoke really well.

“She made everyone see where she came from and who she was.

“I always admired her for being that strength for a woman.

“Back in those days, men were the only ones given a voice.

“Thancoupie was one of those who stood up and gave a voice for all the women.

“I was 12 when I first met her and, later in life, when I went to TAFE and other students would do essays on her artwork, I still admired her for her strength.”

Naomi said it was frustrating that land rights battles were still ongoing years after the death of Thancoupie and other Elders who had fought for decades.

She said having authority and control over traditional country would provide opportunities for Traditional Owners to give back and contribute to the nation.

“It gives us an opportunity to make opportunities for ourselves,” she said.

“It’s so important for our mob to have our land back so we can look after it but also contribute.

“We can create jobs and create business.”

Her artwork itself has become a business and although it’s not quite a career for Naomi – at least in her eyes – it is still developing.

Most recently, she has taken to photography and was recognised at the 2019 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair with a major prize.

Wielding a camera was almost forced upon her, but she took to photography like a duck to water.

“My photographs are more about community social issues,” she said.

“In my role with the land trust, they were looking into a website and talking to family members and letting them know about what the rangers were doing on country.

“And even though I wasn’t writing the reports, they needed photographs to support the reports.

“And so that was my job. They get gave me a camera and said, ‘can you follow the boys around and take photos of them?’ And that’s when I first got a camera in my hands.

“The photos provide a visual that really help with funding applications and showing progress.”

The work led to a hobby and soon enough everyone in Coen was getting their picture taken by Naomi.

“I was photographing them out on country and then I started to follow them into their homes in the community and it kind of blossomed from there,” she said.

An exhibition called Adolescent Wonderlandblew critics away at CIAF as it featured the youth of Coen in their element.

“I’m always developing as an artist and always finding new things to inspire me,” Naomi said.

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