NAIDOC Week poster winner Ryhia Dank sends strong message of country and kin

By Jim Kellar
Updated July 5 2022 - 8:45pm, first published 8:30pm
Ryhia Dank's winning poster entry is very personal. Picture: NAIDOC Week

Ryhia Dank is a prolific and passionate Gudanji/Wakaja contemporary artist.

Winning the 2022 National NAIDOC poster competition was another opportunity to highlight the journey of Indigenous people towards recognition and justice.

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"I created this piece after reading this year's National NAIDOC Week theme - Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!" she said.

"I knew straight away I wanted to do a graphic piece centred around our flags with text highlighting what we have been through and are still fighting for," she said.

Dank's family come from Borroloola area, on the McArthur River about 50 kilometres upstream from the Gulf of Carpentaria.

"Growing up in the Gulf of Carpentaria meant I got to know my country through the stories my family told me and I got to walk in the places and footprints my family has travelled since the beginning," Dank says on her website, Nardurna.com, the name she uses for her storying artistic practice.

The winner: Ryhia Dank's winning NAIDOC Week poster.

Her winning poster entry, for which she won a $10,000 cash prize, is extremely personal.

"I have little bits of me and my family," she said of the artwork. "I have included a crocodile for my late granny. She was one of the strongest women I know and was never afraid to speak her mind and stand up for family and country.

"I have also included my family's dancing stick - this is present as a reminder we will always have our country, kin and culture.

"There are also symbols to represent us as a community. People gathered around a camp, a spear and woomera to represent our strength; water, trees, animal tracks and non-human entities to show our connection to country."

Her own journey as an artist has taken her from the Northern Territory to Melbourne, where she studied design at CATC and then worked in national marketing roles. But COVID-19 brought a change in direction.

"I was in the Northern Territory and couldn't get back to Melbourne, so I painted," she said on her website.

She also relocated and now lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. She opened Yardi Haus in Maroochydore, a hub for creators to work, collaborate and network.

In May, Dank welcomed the arrival of baby Johnnie.

She has a disciplined and inspired work ethic in painted and digital art. Juggling the joys of motherhood, she has resumed making art.

"My painting is storywork," she said on her website.

"Gudanji/Wakaja people told stories through pattern and design and that is what I am doing. I call my storying Nardurna. It means woman in my language.

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"For Gudanji, our big story is about three women who came from the ocean near Ngukurr in the Gulf of Carpentaria. They travelled a long way and then created our place, the hills and fresh water country. I am linked to that story and it links me to my place."

Dank will attend the 2022 National NAIDOC Awards ceremony in Narrm (Melbourne) next week as a guest of the National NAIDOC Committee.

Her mother, Debra Dank, has a new book, We Come With This Place, publishing next week. It's a deeply personal and profound tribute to family and the Gudanji country.