Tiwi sister girl steals scene, defies hillbilly stereotype
A seven-storey high mural of Tiwi Island transgender woman Shaniqua now towers over the Darwin cityscape.
The artwork in Darwin’s West Lane adorns the side of an apartment block and was painted by Melbourne-based street artist Kaff-eine as part of the Darwin Street Art Festival.
Shaniqua, who goes by her first name, says the mural is “incredible” and that she is “honoured and privileged” to be a part of the project.
“The mural is representative of not just me, but all sister girls and the LGBTQI mob,” she says.
Kaff-eine, who also only goes by the one name, says she wanted to represent the Tiwi Islands transgender community with her mural, which was finished on Sunday.
The islands, 85kms from Darwin, have the highest concentration of transgender Indigenous people in Australia.
Kaff-eine says Shaniqua was kind enough to be her model and an ambassador for the community.
“The theme for the festival was Territory stories,” Kaff-eine says. “I thought: what’s a story that is uniquely Northern Territory that perhaps other parts of Australia or the world don’t know about or perhaps should know about …”
“Something that would start conversations and that people would be attracted to and that the Territory would own.”
“I knew about the Sister Girl community on the Tiwi Islands and I thought ‘that’s something super unique’.”
“The Territory has so many stereotypes. Some are really negative about it being really frontier, hillbilly and rough and ready, but at the same time there is this queerness that is maybe not as known Australia-wide as it could be.
“The Sister Girls are a really tight-knit community and have really helped each other over the years and now they have this support and the Tiwi Islands really own them and everyone knows the Sister Girls. They know who they are, and they know what they are about.”
“It complicates those stereotypes about the Territory when you highlight the fact that Australia’s biggest trans community is on this tropical island off the top of the continent.”
Kaff-eine spent a week painting the mural working from a cherry picker.
A lawyer turned artist who travels the world painting large-scale murals, Kaff-eine says she likes to help tell stories through her work.
“Once an advocate, always an advocate,” she says. “A lawyer is an advocate and a storyteller. I feel I’m doing the same thing with my art.
“It feels more me now. I get to travel and meet wonderful people and help tell the stories other people would like to have told or that interest me and I want to know more about.
“It’s still advocacy but it’s advocacy that has a more interesting facade.”
“A lot of what I do is in social justice. It’s more fulfilling.”
Twelve top Australian and international street artists painted scene-stealing, permanent murals around the Darwin CBD during the festival.
By Wendy Caccetta
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