I am a Palyku writer, artist and academic and a practitioner of Indigenous futurisms, a term first coined by Anishinaabe academic Grace Dillon.

Indigenous Futurisms crosses many fields of inquiry but at its core are visions of what-could-be that are informed by our ancient cultures and our deep understandings of oppressive systems. These visions are as diverse as Indigenous peoples ourselves. They are also unified by commonalities which thread through Indigenous worldviews, such as an understanding of reality as living, interconnected whole in which human beings are but one strand of life amongst many, and a non-linear view of time.  

In 2023 I undertook a creative residency with the School of Cybernetics. My project was to apply Indigenous futurist thinking to what is sometimes termed ‘artificial’ intelligence through the medium of visual art (acrylic on canvas). I began with a point that has been made by Indigenous peoples the world over – that in Indigenous systems, there is probably not such a thing as ‘artificial’ intelligence. 

Artwork 1

Through the paintings that follow, I explore non-linear time; the nature of knowing in Aboriginal worldviews; and the processes by which true futures can be reached in the form of nurturing relationships that do not embody the unequal dealings that have marked the past.

Artwork 2

Artwork 3

Artwork 4

The final painting speaks in symbols rather than words. These symbols occur throughout every artwork, carrying their meaning through the series as a whole. 

Artwork 5

I have written to the meaning of these symbols in verse form: #

This painting 
represents my vision 
of decolonising pathways 
where Aboriginal knowledge-ways 
can join with other knowledge-ways 
to create sustainable technologies 
for sustainable futures 

The tracks of crow 
passing through the art 
shows the power and fluidity 
of the Ancestors 
who shifted forms  
and moved in all directions 
across all dimensions 
to make and remake 
what is 

The symbol of the eye 
also represents the heart 
and the mind 
because in Aboriginal systems 
we gain insight 
through feelings 
which are not separate 
from thought 
both heart and mind are needed 
to truly perceive 
all that is around us 

The leaf 
is from a eucalyptus tree 
When burned 
the leaf creates a cleansing 
healing smoke 
that helps open up perception 
to new possibilities 

The water 
is the strength of Aboriginal people 
Like water 
slipping into cracks in rock 
we found a way through  
the hardest of times 
now our strength flows 
like rivers 
like oceans 

The fire 
is a gathering place 
where different peoples can come together 
and speak quietly 
as you would 
in the still of night 
respectful of each other 
and of all the life 
within the fire’s light 
and beyond it 
the seen and unseen 
the known and unknown 
that not all life 
is for humans to understand  
but that does not mean 
other life 
does not have meaning 
and value 

The star 
is movement 
because stars show 
the journeys of Ancestors 
the shifting of Country 
through day and night 
through seasons 
Stars remind us 
of greater rhythms 
we humans 
are just one thread 
amongst all the many  
that make the whole 

The seeds 
are small 
and few  
but if planted   
they will grow 
become more 
The seeds are my hope 
for the futures that will come 
when First Peoples and those who came after 
walk decolonising pathways 

Like all stories, art embodies energy and is part of creating new energies when the storyteller (the art) interacts with an audience. I hope the energy these images carry is of a what-could-be where ancient Indigenous systems and voices are respected, and where from this respect flows a true two-way understanding between peoples which informs sustainable futures that nurture life.

Dr. Ambelin Kwaymullina’s artwork is currently on display on Level 3, Birch Building in Canberra until December 2024. As part of the School of Cybernetics Imagination Residency Program her pieces apply an Indigenous futurist perspective to new intelligences.

Visit Dr Ambelin’s Kwaymullina’s profile

Photo credit: Brenton McGeachie

You are on Aboriginal land.

The Australian National University acknowledges, celebrates and pays our respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of the Canberra region and to all First Nations Australians on whose traditional lands we meet and work, and whose cultures are among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

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