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Architectus Reflects: a collaboration with Heather Kamarra Shearer

Architectus strongly believes in a practical, ongoing and meaningful reconciliation. Not only to recognise and honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia, but to collaborate in constructive and respectful ways as designers of buildings and public spaces.

To formally observe our commitment to Reconciliation Australia’s wonderful partnership initiative, we commissioned Heather Kamarra Shearer to create an original artwork. Heather is an award-winning Arrernte artist, and 1992 NAIDOC Artist of the Year. Her piece, Architectus Reflects, blends her traditional style with an innovative use of 3D perspective. The physical artwork adorns our Adelaide studio, while the digitised version is featured on the cover and throughout our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) document. It will also be used for various RAP-related activities.

Reconciliation Australia’s RAP partnerships increase awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures across all sectors of Australian society. We share their vision of a “just, equitable and reconciled Australia”. For Architectus, Heather’s painting represents a map; an agreement that keeps us accountable. The colours, symbols, movements and perspectives express the elements of cross-cultural understanding required for our national team to contribute to a purposeful reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Not only as designers, but as individuals and Australians.

Architectus Reflects is the first in a series of artworks that will be created by local artists as we continue to celebrate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this nation as the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which our studios are located and where we create buildings across the country for people to gather.

Collaboration and Interpretation

Heather worked with our Reflect RAP document, written by a committee of 14 people who represent our five Australian studios and all disciplines and roles within the practice.

Launched in November 2020, it provides a framework for Architectus to build and encourage reconciliation in several ways, most significantly through:

  • consultation with First Peoples on building projects, including landscape and artistic factors
  • improved education and connectedness to the diverse cultures and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by inviting presenters into our studios to share their stories.

While discussions were conducted as to the possible approach and priorities of the artwork, the team was mindful to not be prescriptive, but instead leave the brief open to Heather’s interpretation.

“When I take on a commission, I think about relevant images I can work in. When researching architects’ tools, I got stuck on the protractor. I remember from school days, when we were mapping out cities, I used the protractor, so I couldn’t go past that.”

— Heather Kamarra Shearer

Heather produced a series of sketches exploring the elements that form the foundation of a successful reconciliation journey. Working from the Architectus studio in Adelaide, her first paintings were effectively a complex legend of layered elements and symbols that would inform her final artwork.

The sketches began fusing Heather’s understanding of the equipment that architects traditionally use to generate the design and technical drawings of buildings, blended with the symbolism of community and dwelling structures that she uses in her paintings. The centrepiece of Architectus Reflects is a circle. One half represents the protractor, a tool of architecture and Western traditions in science and mathematics. The other half is a traditional circular Indigenous symbol for community. When combined, these elements express the coming together of two worlds in balance and understanding – maintaining respect for individual groups’ lineage and identity.

Heather presented her ideas to the Architectus RAP working group online; a range of philosophical and practical pathways to interpretation were explored.

Architectus Reflects with Heather Kamarra Shearer
Architectus Reflects with Heath Kamarra Shearer

The Architectus national RAP Working Group had regular online meetings with Heather.

Health Kamarra Shearer and Karl Traeger

Blending Perspectives

Heather had another idea to incorporate a grid somewhere in the painting as another expression of Western tradition. After we introduced her to the way architects use perspective grids to generate 3D images of their buildings, she explored how a sense of perspective could be incorporated into her paintings to provide a visual depth. Perspective was not something she has used in her artworks before and is not a style typically seen in traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artworks.

Blending Perspectives artwork
Blending Perspectives artwork

In the spirit of collaboration, the digital design technology typically used at Architectus was integrated into Heather’s creative process. Parts of her painting were manipulated and stretched into a perspective grid.

RAP artwork digital process

The draft painting was emerging. The elements described in the legend painting were being rearranged to better tell the story of different cultures and world views being brought together. The apparent polarisation of cultures, represented on either side of the composition and surrounded by their community networks, are brought together through a mutual understanding and respect for difference. This idea can also be expressed through an architectural metaphor of understanding how physical elements are transformed into building materials and unified into space in a built form that reflects cultural, social, and political structures and aspirations.

I had the great pleasure of visiting Heather at her studio in Port Augusta.

Heather Kamarra Shearer Karl Traeger discuss RAP artwork

“Reconciliation has been a hard slog and a lot of people have dedicated their lives to it. We are a lucky country, but are we all lucky? That’s the question. We need to work together, to get to know each other. This country, this land, is for everybody.”
Heather Kamarra Shearer

As Heather says, “We need to work together, to get to know each other”. The unification of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous world views. The two halves forming a complete circle. Surrounded by people of all cultural backgrounds. This symbol of balance, understanding and mutual respect is set in the centre of the perspective, acknowledging that achieving this balance is still off in the future.

But maybe not too far away.

Architectus Reflects Artwork final

Work needs to be done to achieve genuine cultural respect and understanding in Australia.