Lin Onus grew up in a world where his Aboriginal heritage, from his father's Yorta Yorta people, intertwined with the urban environment of his upbringing
Lin Onus (1948-1996)
Born on December 4, 1948, in Melbourne, Victoria, Onus' unique positioning would come to define his artistic journey, one marked by innovation, exploration, and a deep commitment to cultural dialogue.
From his early years, Onus was exposed to the rich artistic traditions of his Indigenous heritage, a foundation that he would later blend with diverse contemporary influences. His father, Bill Onus, was a significant figure in the Aboriginal rights movement and also an entrepreneur who revived traditional Aboriginal crafts. This environment nurtured Lin's deep respect for his cultural roots while also encouraging his engagement with a broad spectrum of artistic expressions.
Lin Onus did not receive formal art training in the traditional sense. Instead, his education was the vast expanse of the Australian landscape, the stories of his people, and his encounters with artists and artworks that spanned the globe. His early work was influenced by his father's business, creating souvenirs that depicted Aboriginal themes. However, Onus's artistic vision quickly evolved, pushing beyond the confines of commercial art to explore deeper narratives and more complex intercultural dialogues.
Onus's art is characterised by its vibrant use of color, intricate detail, and the seamless fusion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous techniques and motifs. He became known for his ability to juxtapose traditional Aboriginal iconography with elements of European art history, pop culture, and the Australian landscape, creating visually striking compositions that invited viewers to reconsider their perceptions of identity, culture, and belonging.
Perhaps one of his most celebrated works, "Fruit Bats," epitomises Onus's unique approach. In this installation, a flock of sculpted bats hangs on a Hills Hoist clothes line. Beneath this icon of Australian suburbia are wooden discs with flower-like motifs, representing the bat droppings. In this powerful installation, the sacred and the mundane combine. Each meticulously painted with traditional Aboriginal designs. The piece is both a nod to the significance of the bat in Yorta Yorta culture and a playful yet poignant commentary on the intersections of nature, culture, and colonial history in Australia.
Fruit bats, Lin Onus, 1991
Throughout his career, Onus was a passionate advocate for Indigenous rights and a pioneer in the Indigenous art community. He played a crucial role in elevating the status of Aboriginal art within Australia and internationally, challenging stereotypes and advocating for the recognition of Indigenous artists as contemporary practitioners rather than merely custodians of traditional forms.
Lin Onus's untimely death in 1996 cut short a career that had already left an indelible mark on the Australian art scene. Yet, his legacy endures, not only through his artworks but also through his contribution to fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the richness and complexity of Indigenous Australian culture. Onus's life and work continue to inspire new generations of artists, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, to explore the possibilities of cultural exchange and artistic innovation.
In reflecting on Lin Onus's journey, we are reminded of the power of art to bridge divides, to challenge the status quo, and to celebrate the myriad stories that shape our world.