Born in 1967 in Alice Springs, Trephina is a proud Luritja woman who grew up with many uncles,
aunties and cousins. She was the only child in her family.
Trephina’s painting talents started at a
very young age. As a young girl she used to sit and
watch her uncles, aunties, cousins and friends paint for
hours at a time. She would then pick up a stick and draw
her art in the dirt.
With her mother and aunty a big
influence in her life, Trephina went to the English
speaking school at Alice Springs. Even though English
became Trephina’s first language, she was taught
Luritja, the language of her family and Elders at home.
Trephina, in her own words, had the best of both worlds.
The language skill she acquired stood
Trephina in good stead. Acknowledged as a Luritja
language specialist, she did work as an interpreter and
in conjunction with colleagues and the Alice Springs
Institute for Aboriginal Development, was a valuable
contributor to an Aboriginal-English dictionary.
For Trephina, her main love is
painting. When asked what inspires her artwork, she speaks about her connection
to the ‘old people’. She reveals that when she sits down in conversation with
the elders, around the fire, she is inspired by their heart, spirituality, land,
songline and country. It is this that she strives to capture in her art.
For the Indigenous People of Australia, the creation of art using the natural
resources around them, dates back many thousands of
years in Aboriginal culture. Art had revolved around
symbolism and a limited set of colours, created by
crushing ochres found in the region. Much of the early
works were found depicted on rocks and in caves. The
early 70s saw a change in the tools they used and a
shift in style, with many
Aboriginal artists expanding beyond the original colours
of ochre, whilst using the modern
medium of acrylic and canvas, interpreting their dream
time and culture through the classic ‘dot-style’ that is
synonymous with Aboriginal art movement.
Many of Trephina’s early work is done in
this ‘dot-style’. Although she still produces artwork in this
style, Trephina like many artists, has evolved from the
natural colours reflected in the landscape of ‘Central
Australia’ to expanding to a larger palate of colours.
Other changes can also be seen in her work, as she
moves from tentative brush work to painting in masterful strokes of vibrant
hues, producing some very popular works such as ‘Tjanpi Kampanyi’
(Burning Grass), Kapi Nguru (From Water), and Kamiku Ara (Grandmothers
These beautiful works are evocative and captures the very
essence of Aboriginal culture. It was
interesting to hear from Trephina, how the style
for her ‘Tjanpi Kampanyi’ had developed. She use to do it as a background and really
liked the brush strokes on it’s own. It evoked memories of her past...
...for generations our people have burnt off the bush land for
hunting purposes, safety and regrowth.
Now taking centre
stage, each new ‘Tjanpi Kampanyi’ would burn in its own
flames. With each canvas, Trephina would vary the
colour and intensity, some showing black in the background, some
white, others with bright orange-yellow flames. Even the
size of the canvas would vary, from small two panel
pieces, to larger 2 metre long paintings.
New works are emerging from her brush
stokes, reflecting this abstract style, as can be seen
in her ‘Bush Onions’, ‘Bush Honey’, ‘Voices in the Wind’, ‘Bush Tobacco’
and ‘Grass Seed’. With many ideas
swirling around in her head, and the penchant for trying new ideas,
we continue to look forward to seeing Trephina’s future works.
Trephina’s paintings represent her
family’s culture, upbringing as a young child, and
stories as told by her Elders. They capture their heart, their spirituality,
songlines and their country. Her paintings include
Aboriginal symbolism of vegetation, food sources,
watering holes and the wildlife of Central Australia.
Sometimes, she would wake up in the early morning with a
memory resonating from her past. These may be a story or
answer to some current piece she is working on. Every day activities can inspire a new
ideas, for a new painting.
Of course, some stories cannot be told, whilst others would
Trephina seek permission from her Elders.
Trephina’s paintings have been bought by
visitors to the Alice Springs area, over many years, and
are displayed in houses all over Australia and the
World. More recent works have been exhibited and sold
in an exhibition in
Trephina’s mother side of the family are ‘Desert
People’, but her father side of the family are ‘Saltwater People’ from the Gulf
region of Normanton to Croydon.
Many of her works has been created
under the name of Trephina Sultan, although she still continues to use this name on different works,
some of her works
will also bear her Aboriginal name of ‘Thanguwa’. The
equivalent meaning in English is ‘scent’.
Thanguwa is actually
Trephina’s grandmothers name on her mothers side. Her family and relatives
started calling her Thanguwa when they could see how like her grandmother she
resembled, even down to the shyness. This shyness in Trephina is balanced by the
ability to be able to get up and talk, to not be frightened and to challenge
As a mother, Trephina has five children, 2 sons and 3
daughter, some of whom paint.
Her son Rueben Sultan has created a couple of works, that follow in his mother’s
footstep. Click here to see his sold work.