Meet The 20-Year-Old Using Art To Explore Her First Nations Culture

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Lua Pellegrini
Lua Pellegrini has always been passionate about visual arts, but it's only in the past few years she's realised how much her talent serves as not only a hobby, but a way of connecting with her culture and heritage.
In 2020, she had an exhibition titled 'Our Past, Our Future' at NSW Parliament House that included her 2019 HSC Major work, 'Our Past, Her Future'. The recognition was enormous, especially for a very personal piece exploring the intimate relationship between herself, Wiradjuri culture and community.
"[It's about] my family's personal history, and our pasts," Pellegrini tells Refinery29 Australia.
The 20-year-old Wiradjuri woman's grandmother and great grandmother were part of the Stolen Generations — where Aboriginal children were taken from their homes by white people and placed in settlements in a bid to assimilate them.
The Loreto Normanhurst graduate says the artwork has not only helped her connect to her roots, but it's a piece "that's important for my nieces and my younger siblings to be able to see — almost as like a narrative of our family history.
"That's where my journey with this sort of style of art — where I'm looking at my culture — started," she explains.
Since then, she's been studying a double degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts/Arts majoring in Indigenous Studies at the University of New South Wales and is an alumna of the GO Foundation. The GO Foundation was founded by AFL stars Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin with the purpose of creating opportunities for Indigenous youth through education. It has been one of several networks that have helped support Pellegrini in her journey of self-discovery and cultural connection.
"Both my great grandmother and my grandmother were part of the Stolen Generations and taken away from their families at such a young age," she explains. "And I didn't feel very connected to my culture growing up and I haven't really been able to have a lot of contact with my extended family as a result.
"So I know for me personally, I turned a lot to my community Elders and I'm pretty heavily involved with the GO Foundation. I have really leant on them to build my own community of people that can support me in this journey of being confident and proud of who I am."
Pellegrini was recently selected to design the Sydney Swans 2022 Marn Grook guernsey artwork titled 'Duguwaybul Yindyamangidyal' which will be used for the next four years. When she got the call about it, she was visiting her great aunt on Wiradjuri country.
"It was just the most fantastic thing and the perfect time to hear that exciting news," she says, explaining she was only able to connect with her great aunt recently.
"In the last couple of years, we've actually been really lucky because we've been able to get in contact with some of our extended family, which has been so special to me.
"Being able to build that relationship [with my great aunt] has made me feel so much more connected to the person that I am, and just be really proud of being an Aboriginal person and wanting to share that with everyone through my art."
Pellegrini recently finished a term chairing the Youth Advisory Council, where she advocated for various Indigenous youth issues, of which one she is particularly passionate about.
"I think for me, education is key," she says, explaining she's the only person in her family to finish high school.
"It's really shown me how important education is, and how much it makes a difference to the opportunities that you'll be given post-schooling," she says. "I just wish that every young Aboriginal person could be able to have a fantastic education like mine that I was so lucky to be given."
Speaking of opportunities, she says this NAIDOC Week's theme of 'Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!' is also a time when people from non-Indigenous backgrounds can truly listen to First Nations people who "have been fighting for change since the beginning of colonisation".
"What non-Indigenous people can do is hero the voices of First Nations people and make sure that Indigenous people have the opportunity to have their voices heard," she says.
But it can't be tokenistic.
"It needs to be in a meaningful way," she says, "where we are really able to voice our opinions and have them heard rather than just ticking a box."
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