People and Places
Shanai shifts from shyness to artistic elevation

Shanai Kellett paints story. This proud Cummeragunja Yorta Yorta artist and educator, whose roots spring from her mother’s mob on the banks of the Murray River to spread down south to Boon Wurrung/Bunurong country where the ocean clambers and crashes, breathes Indigenous artistry. As the only dark-skinned child at Boneo Primary and one of the minority of dark-skinned girls at Rosebud High while she was growing up, childhood presented itself with both challenges and the opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Now almost 30 and a proud science and Indigenous studies specialist teacher at Dromana Primary, Shanai is set to delve into her art with vim and vigour. She explains:

“My mum, Kim Lampton, is an Aboriginal artist and taught me how to paint. She learnt from her uncle and is recognised for her sand paintings.” Kim’s maternal grandparents were the esteemed pastor Sir Doug and Lady Gladys Nicholls.  Shanai continues: “I’ve always had a deep connection with nature and grew up on St Andrews and Rye back beaches with my younger sister swimming and surfing, and spent my holidays camping on the Murray in NSW with my mum’s ancestors learning about Aboriginal culture. I played a lot of sport as a kid and loved running and kicking the footy. Again, I was the only dark-skinned girl on the girls’ football team and sometimes I felt shamed, but Mum and Dad were incredibly positive and always had my back. 

“I was shy. After school, I got my Bachelor of Primary Education at the Monash University Peninsula campus. It’s taken me three years to get the courage to even start an Instagram page to showcase my art. I donated one of my paintings to an exhibition to raise money for the Victorian Bush Fire Appeal but haven’t had a solo exhibition yet. My painting style is different from the more traditional form of dot painting. It’s more modern, and I use colour in a different way. I express my dots in different sizes while staying true to the traditional use of symbolism. My Shadows painting reflects Australia’s dark history to unite as one, while other work reminds us not to take life for granted. I try to express my environment in my painting; the dune middens, the sea. Everything I look at gives me some sort of inspiration because natural inspiration is everywhere here.”

So what’s next for this creative young woman who ran at state level, loves yoga and Pilates and has seen her time in isolation as the perfect excuse to pull out the paint and brushes to produce thousands of multicoloured dots? “Remote teaching has been really interesting. I’ve been going into school once a week. All the tables are separated, we are constantly sanitising our hands and only two people at a time are allowed in certain areas, but the extra time at home has given me the incentive to paint more. I also want to learn Yorta Yorta. Someone in the community has developed an app for people to learn the language. That, more painting, teaching the kids about Indigenous culture and anything physical that gives me the good endorphins and I’m there.”

Find Shanai’s work on Instagram @malogaart 


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