WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.
15 July 2021 // Jenni Kemarre Martiniello
Jenni Kemarre Martiniello (born 1949) is an (Arrernte) visual artist, writer, photographer and arts advocate. Born in Tarndanya (Adelaide), Australia, her father was of Aboriginal and Chinese descent, and her mother, a mezzo-soprano and accomplished pianist, was of Anglo-Celtic descent.
Martiniello had an early interest in art. While in high school, she took night classes at the Adelaide School of Art. However, after she graduated from high school, she decided to join the navy. She spent two years in the service, first as a radar plotter and later as a weapons assessor. She eventually left, dissatisfied with the way service members were treated. She then met and married her husband, an Italian migrant, and they settled in Canberra in the late 1960s.
After her divorce, Martiniello returned to school, studying sculpture at the Canberra School of Art (now the Australian National University School of Art). While there, she experimented with many different mediums, including drawing, printmaking, and photography. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1985, then studied philosophy and art history (also at ANU).
In 1999, Martiniello founded the ACT Indigenous Writers Group. She published several volumes of poetry, and in 2003 she was named an ACT Creative Arts Fellow for Literature.
In 2003, Martiniello and fellow artist Lyndy Delian founded the Indigenous Textiles and Glass Artists (ITAG) organization. The group advocates for indigenous artists and helps them connect with other arts organisations. They help to mitigate any barriers due to historic colonisation and discrimination of Indigenous peoples.
Martiniello founded Kemarre Arts in 2006. It was the Australian Capital Territory's first "independent Aboriginal-run social enterprise."The organization supports artists in many ways, including through: grant writing, professional development programs, publishing, and product and pricing guidance. In 2012, Kemarre Arts won the ACT NAIDOC Award for Most Outstanding Agency.
Martiniello first began to work in the medium of glass in 2008. In 2011, she was an artist-in-residence at the Thomas Foundation. While there, she began experimenting with weaving patterns in glass. She took her inspiration from the Aboriginal tradition of weaving. As a child she had seen woven vessels such as fish traps and bags in museums, displayed as if they were "relics from a dead past of extinct cultural practices.” She was also able to watch women, including her Arrante grandmother, weave items such as eel traps, fish traps, dilly bags, bicornual baskets, and message sticks.
In 2013, Martiniello was awarded the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award for her piece Golden Brown Reeds Fish Trap. The Australian award is the most prestigious prize for indigenous art. The piece was inspired by woven fish traps from northeast Arnhem Land and Cape York, and took a team of seven artists to make.
Other selected awards and honors include the Canberra Critics Circle Award for Visual Arts (2011, 2013), the Wollotuka Acquisitive Art Prize (University of Newcastle, 2012), the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Visual Arts Fellowship (2013-2015), and the Bay of Fires Art Prize (2016).
Her work is in several major collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, the Canberra Museum and Gallery, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, the Australian Parliament House Collection, the National Art Glass Gallery, the Belau National Museum, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, and the British Museum.