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Sisters are doing it for themselves

A desire to improve their education and learn more about their Aboriginal culture brought triplets Gloria, Chantel and Eyvonne Sturgeon-Walsh to TAFE Queensland.

The 20-year-old sisters from Townsville have overcome a series of physical and mental challenges to smash through barriers and gain not one, but two cultural art qualifications.

After being diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and intellectual impartments, the triplets faced a tough time at school.

"Growing up we were bullied, which gave me depression, and we were put in a corner and told we were stupid. All three of us decided to do cultural arts training to prove to the bullies that we are smart," Eyvonne said.

The triplets' willpower to overcome obstacles has improved their self-esteem and showed them they're capable of achieving anything.

Gloria has faced additional challenges after being born with glaucoma, but she hasn't let that stand in her way of achieving her study goals.

"It’s very challenging to study when you have glaucoma, but I found it helpful to use some of the gadgets I got from Vision Australia," Gloria said.

"I use a HumanWare Connect 12 Magnifier which helps me read and look around, as well as other assistive apps like Seeing AI and Lazarillo."

Dedicated and driven, the triplets undertook their qualifications back-to-back at the Cairns and Pimlico campuses. The sisters completed a Certificate III in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Cultural Arts (CUA30520) and a Certificate IV in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Cultural Arts (CUA40620) despite additional challenges brought on by the COVID-19 lockdown.

"I hope other people in a similar situation can see what we have achieved and that it inspires them to keep going forward," Eyvonne said.

"You may have a barrier in front of you, but you can go around it, over it or straight through it."

Chantel said she and her sisters have always shared a close bond and love creating art.

"Our grandfather showed us how to draw from a very young age. My sisters and I wanted to study cultural arts to learn more about our Aboriginal culture and at the same time learn more about art," Chantel said.

"Aboriginal artists do more than just dot painting. For example, my sisters and I have made drawings, lino prints, watercolours, screen prints and dry etches."

As their studies progressed, the triplets learned more about their First Nations’ heritage.

"We belong to two tribes; one is the Kalkadoon people from around Mount Isa but my family didn’t know much about the other tribe," Chantel said.

"During our studies, we found out our second tribe is KuKu Yalanji from the Mossman region."

"While we were in Cairns for our block training we decided to visit Mossman which was around an hour away. We went on a hike there and I felt really connected to the area, it felt like home," she said.

Throughout their training, the sisters drew on their own unique inspirations to create their artwork, including spirits and guardians, their birth totem the platypus, flowers, and influences from other cultures. The triplets finished their studies by showcasing several pieces of artwork in a TAFE Queensland exhibition.

Gloria said a lot of the work she creates is influenced by nature.

"I really love drawing flowers and for the exhibition I created a drypoint etching called Wild Flowers," Gloria said.

"I used a sharp drawing needle to scratch my design, but because of my glaucoma it was hard to see what I was doing, so I relied on touch to create my work. I then used ink and a printing press to finish my drypoint."

"I also really love animation and I hope to start my own art business and draw people in anime," she said.

Eyvonne said her recent work tapped into her passion for Japanese folklore.

"I’m really interested in the Japanese fox mask called a Kitsune."

"My artwork entitled The Fierce Thylacine Spirit is a design like the Kitsune mask but instead of a fox it’s a Tasmanian Tiger," Eyvonne continued.

"This animal did not deserve death, so to remember it I created a mixed media, watercolour portrait."

Chantel said animals often feature in her artwork.

"One of my pieces in the exhibition depicted a flood which had separated platypuses from their nest," Chantel said.

"It’s a lino print, so I used a piece of lino and carving tools to cut my design. Then using ink and paper, the design transferred in a printing press."

"It took me three days to complete my design and I made it during COVID lockdown," she said.

Gloria, Chantel and Eyvonne hope to share their creative skills with members of their family to ensure their culture continues to be expressed through art.

If you want to see more art from the Sturgeon-Walsh triplets, follow them on Instagram
Chantel @chantel_sturgeon_walsh_artwork
Gloria @ji_ta_moshiki_ka201
Eyvonne @eyv2020