Sadly, Cairns-based artist, Arone Meeks, originally from Cape York, died last month. He was born in 1957 and was a Kuku Midigi man who grew up in Yarrabah and El Arish, Mission Beach. His country was further north, the area around Laura, Cape York.
Arone Meeks had both a traditional and a formal education, having been taught to paint by his grandfather before going to study at the City Art Institute in Sydney. He later returned to Queensland to study with various tribal elders, including those of the Lardil people of Mornington Island.
Meeks valued this combination of training and experience, his work employing both traditional images and themes arising out of his concern with the issues of Land Rights, sexuality, cultural values and belonging to Country. After graduating from art school, he discovered the mainstream art world had a very limited enthusiasm for Urban Indigenous artists. “Our artwork was not deemed Black enough to be considered ‘traditional’ and not white enough to be considered ‘mainstream”, he would assess before going on to be a founding member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative in Sydney. He then won an Australia Council Fellowship to study in Paris and went on to exhibit throughout Europe and both North and South America.
Arone continuously experimented with new media, often in the form of sweeping prints, paintings and public art installations. Arone was also a teacher, a staunch advocate for the arts, and a generous supporter of Queensland’s Indigenous artists and communities.
Since 2017, Meeks had been a valued member of the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair Board of Directors. CIAF’s board and staff extend deep sympathies to his partner, Geoff “Tex” Dixon, Arone’s family and many, many friends.
The Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance and the Positive Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network (PATSIN) have also shared their deep sadness at the passing of Arone Raymond Meeks.
For Meeks was not only an accomplished artist but a leading advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Islanders living with HIV. The two organisations said Meeks provided a unique contribution to the HIV sector and pioneered a new way of storytelling. “Through art, he shared his story and that of his community by interconnecting Aboriginal culture, HIV and health promotion”.
But it was a battle. When his partner of 20 years died from AIDS, he admitted. “during this time I became quite self-destructive. My work became very dark and then I stopped painting for nearly a year. I was thinking, ‘Why? … Why would anybody want this dark moody stuff?’ Well, it was a surprise to have an exhibition in Sydney and sell the lot! It proved to me that I was not alone, and I wasn’t the only one going through this”.
Queer novelist and proud Noongar woman, Claire Coleman also paid tribute to Meeks posting to Twitter, “Vale Arone Meeks. The world is a lot darker without you; the sun is shining but darkness is falling. The world is a little colder now.”