A Kuku Midigi man of the eastern Cape York Rainforest, Arone’s first art training was of a traditional nature, learnt from his grandfather and other elders.
The First Nations peoples of the Cape York rainforest lived in the most densely populated area of Australia prior to the arrival of Europeans. Their numbers were decimated in the late 1700’s by the smallpox epidemic which swept the continent. Having no previous exposure to the disease, and therefore no immunity, Aboriginal Australians were defenceless against it.
Large numbers died, some sources speculate 50% of the population, many killed by the disease without ever seeing a white person.
The Kuku Midigi were otherwise untouched by the British appropriation of Australia until the 1870’s when one of the biggest gold rushes in Australian history took place in their vicinity.
Men poured into the area from around the world in pursuit of riches and the Queensland Government dispatched the Native Police to “disperse the natives”, “dispersal” all too often a euphemism for slaughter.
Cairns-based artist Arone Meeks’ (pictured) art is informed by the beauty of his country, the culture and traditions of the Kuku Midigi and the history of the collision with European expansion. His work is found in galleries around the world and he has studied and worked in places as diverse as France, India and the United States.
He is also a renowned illustrator of children’s books, receiving a UNICEF Award for Enora and the Black Crane, which he also wrote.
A description of that book encapsulates Arone’s life and career, “Enora’s people are surrounded by delicious bush foods and amazing animals. When Enora discovers a shimmering rainbow of colour flying through the forest, his curiosity overwhelms him. Ignoring the pleas of his family, he sets out to discover its meaning.”
Arone’s most recent collection Megaloo to Murray Island came about after a residency at Megaloo Studio in Canberra along with workshops on Warraber and Mer Murray Islands in the Torres Strait.
Gail Mabo, daughter of the late Eddie Mabo
Has asked Arone to create works based on the achievements of her father in his battle for Land Rights.
Coming up, Arone has been asked to illustrate a book on his own white ancestor, Albert Meek, sent to Australia to collect bird and insect specimens by Lord Rothschild.
Meek accidentally discovered the world’s largest butterfly when he shot a Queen Alexandra Birdwing dead, mistaking it for a bird. Now based in Cairns with his long time partner, fellow artist Tex, Arone continues a prodigious output of magnificent work across a variety of mediums.
His work is visually sumptuous, with a masterful use of rich vibrant jewel-like colour, highly appropriate for an artist who belongs to two communities closely associated with the rainbow.
Beyond the visual, Arone’s art also addresses issues close to his heart.
“My work often reflects my concerns about the global migration of cultures and peoples and the treatment of those migrants by governments. The cost to humanity is great,” he said.
“I also pay homage to Keith Haring, a champion for HIV awareness. I have a passion for combining art and sexual health messages: HIV and STIs are still here, and we need to be vigilant.”
Arone’s passion for HIV awareness and sexual health promotion carries over from his art into more practical measures through his work as an educator across Northern Queensland and the Torres Strait and his generous donations of artworks over many years to raise funds for HIV and sexual health-related causes.
Arone says of his participation in Pride celebrations, “This is a great opportunity to share new knowledge and ways of seeing the world.
“We have all come such a long way to get here and now is the time to share and celebrate our diversity. I am proud to be part of Brisbane Pride.”
Arone’s work will be exhibited at the Q-Art Pride Exhibition, hosted by QNews Magazine from September 14 during this year’s Brisbane Pride Festival. The artist’s work can also be seen at Cairns Tropical Pride’s Tropical Gaze Exhibition, from October 12.