Art We Heart: Nicole Monks

July 6th 2016

Sheemu_Nicole Monks

Sheemu – Performance work preselected for the Telstra NATSIAA 2016. Image courtesy of the artist  

In Aboriginal culture, there is no one word for art. All cultural forms exist together in the everyday; art, dance, music and design. You paint the body and then you dance to the music. It is a rich cultural ecosystem where everything is intertwined.

Working across art and design, Nicole Monks’ trans-disciplinary creative practice emerges from this framework, stating that in both art and design, “one informs the other and they grow together”.

As a Wajarri Yamatji woman with Aboriginal, Dutch and English heritage, Nicole is able to explore these histories through multiple viewpoints, telling her story and analysing what it means to be living in Australia today. She injects the Aboriginal ethos of sustainability and interconnectedness into all that she does, creating artworks and design objects that “make you feel”.

Having worked in film, performance, photography, furniture, spatial and interior design, Nicole has her fingers in many pies. She says that when ideas come to her – as a dream, emotion or feeling – she unpacks them within herself and then figures out the best art or design form to communicate it with. This has resulted in an incredibly diverse array of work, from boomerang-inspired chairs to performance works in native animal costumes.

Selected as a finalist for the 2016 NATSIAA (Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards) with her performance work ‘We Are All Animals’, Nicole is donning her ‘Sheemu’ costume for the occasion. Half sheep, half emu, ‘Sheemu’ is an ambiguous animal identity created by Nicole. It addresses her cross-cultural heritage and navigates how these pasts come together in her present.

Created on a remote sheep station in Fowlers Gap, Nicole collected the discarded feathers of an emu, a native Australian animal, and leftover sheep’s wool, an introduced species. The final result is a costume with the head of a sheep, symbolic of western thinking, and the body of an emu. In her performance as ‘Sheemu’, Nicole nestles into different environments, like the shearing shed and the riverbed. It is a testament to how, no matter the degree your environment changes or how the walls are built up around you, you still have to make a home.


Walarnu_Nicole Monks

Walarnu (boomerang) – Aboriginal furniture launched at the Shanghai international furniture fair 2015 

Nicole always tries to hide a little educational punch in everything she does. Her ‘Walarnu’ chair design, inspired by the hunting boomerang and made entirely from sustainable, eco-friendly materials. The repetitive design symbolises the boomerang spinning through the air as it is thrown up to bring down birds. Each of the colours – gold, tin and copper – are minerals that Nicole’s country in Western Australia is rich in. While the striking aesthetic of her design is what initially attracts people, Nicole finds that once they make an emotional connection to an object, they are more open and interested in the story behind it – seeking to know more.

No matter the design or artform Nicole chooses to communicate with, her overarching message embeds Aboriginal culture into the everyday. It is our history, so why shouldn’t it be part of our daily life?


It’s NAIDOC Week: a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements, and an opportunity to recognise the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to our country and our society. Find out more and see what’s on at


WHAT: ‘We Run Into The Fire’ group exhibition featuring Nicole Monks
WHERE: Alaska Projects [Carpark]
WHEN: 22 June – 10 July, Closing Party Sunday 10 July 1-5pm
HOW MUCH: Free – more info here



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