Safina Stewart: Bunjil
ArtWay Visual Meditation April 23, 2023
Safina Stewart: Bunjil
Safina Stewart: Seven Days of Creation
Authentically Indigenous and Authentically Christian
by Scott Rayl
Safina Stewart is a Christian artist from Wuthithi and Mabuiag Island who lives in Melbourne, Australia. Born in New Zealand and raised in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, Safina grew up with many multicultural experiences where she learned to follow Jesus from her missionary parents. Her father is Australian with Scottish heritage and her mother is a Torres Strait Islander and Queensland Aboriginal. At age thirteen Safina went with her family to live in mainland Australia.
Safina writes, “Art and a pride in my cultural heritage allow me the opportunity to showcase creative reflection – giving me a platform to honor the Creator as one made in His image.” Through her paintings Safina explores her faith and ethnicity, seeking to express her authenticity in being authentically Indigenous and authentically Christian. Beginning with visual elements gathered from Aboriginal visual vocabularies, as well as more naturalistic representations, Safina infuses them with her own personal color palettes. She then combines the images with biblical stories and themes, especially those related to God's love and reconciliation. The resulting paintings present new ways of seeing and understanding God’s desire to heal relationships.
Safina says, “My acrylic paintings each carry a story about the relationships we hold with ourselves, creation, others, and our Creator. I aim to share messages of hope through the vibrant tones and fluid line work that I use to tell the story behind each painting.”
For example, many of her paintings feature native Australian animals. Not only are many of these animals totem symbols for Aboriginal communities, but they also display qualities which remind us of God's character in creation and love for all people and living things, Safina says.
Safina Stewart: Bunjil
One of those vibrant paintings is called Bunjil (2007). Bunjil, which means eagle in the languages of the Kulin Nations of Australia, is the Creator Spirit. Safina describes the painting this way:
Bunjil flies high over the Yarra River watching over all he has created. Bunjil (the eaglehawk) represents the Creator Spirit. The set of three wavy lines represents the Yarra River in Victoria. The campfire circles symbolize families and communities of the Kulin Nation gathering together. The straight lines are the paths and relationships that connect people to each other. The three large circles and lightning represent the power of prayer, worship and relationship with the Creator. This painting of Bunjil is about how our Creator is lovingly watching over, protecting, providing and participating in relationship with His creation. It beckons our response to the invitation to be in relationship with Him as we live in connection with each other and the land.
Safina tells a story about how this painting impacted one particular person several years ago:
A man comes towards her stall and Safina recoils when she sees him coming. “He looks as rough as nails,” she thinks. A skinhead with a beard that waterfalls down to his waist, a leather jacket decorated with skulls and his body an ink explosion of tatoos, she sees by his side a wild dog, a dingo on a leash. The bikie picks up a painting of an eagle in flight and looks at Safina. She explains to him its meaning, about how in Wurundjuri country, the eagle, Bunjil, is the symbol given to the Creator of all things. “Did you know that the Creator of all things created you and has a purpose and a plan for your life? He is like the eagle, and is always present, hovering and watching over you. He knows everything about you and loves you,” she says. The bikie listens closely and begins to cry. He buys the artwork, and Safina is left praising God.
There is a need all over the world for Christians of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to share the Gospel with those who don’t know the love of God. When communicated with love, these Gospel invitations can be made through a variety of languages, both spoken and artistic. There is no one way to say “God loves you.”
Safina Stewart: Seven Days of Creation, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 61 x 152 cm.
Safina Stewart: Bunjil, 2007, acrylic on canvas.
Safina Sewart is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artist, based in Melbourne, Australia. She has been involved in community, corporate and private art projects in Melbourne since 2007. Safina is able to draw from a rich heritage and experience to create stunning and meaningful artworks. Her Aboriginal heritage comes from Wuthathi Country in Far North Queensland, her Torres Strait Islander heritage comes from Mabuiag Island , and her Non-Indigenous heritage comes from Scotland. She has been an active member of her local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community through her art and family. She endeavors to develop and use her art in ways that encourages awareness, wholeness and hope. As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman, educator and professional artist, Safina comes with a wide range of creative ideas that envelop insightful cultural awareness. She has experience in teaching, artist in residence programs, exhibitions, public speaking and commissioned art projects. Winner of the 2011 Victorian Eastern Region NAIDOC Art Award, Safina comes with the confidence and endorsement of her Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and elders. See and read more
Scott Rayl seeks to better understand and promote the role of indigenous arts in the life of the global church. He graduated from Tulane University with an undergraduate degree in anthropology and studio art, and from Dallas International University with a master’s degree in World Arts. Since his undergraduate days, Scott’s careers have included graphic design and working as a Biblical artist creating paintings in traditional art styles from around the world. He currently works in the area of Scripture engagement, recently having served for three years as an EthnoArts Specialist with SIL Nigeria, where he helped Nigerian Christians engage with God's Word through local art forms. Some of his writings on Ethnodoxology appear in Worship and Missions for the Global Church: An Ethnoxoxology Handbook. Scott is now based in the U.S. where he continues his Scripture engagement work as the Media & Communications Developer and EthnoArts Specialist for Storyweavers Global.
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