On Jan. 26, 1788, Royal Navy officer Arthur Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales, raising a British flag for the first time on the land now known as Australia.
For many Australians, Jan. 26 was henceforth honored as Australia Day, a time to commemorate the history of the country and continent Down Under and indulge in some national pride. For the many indigenous people, however, the date symbolizes the beginning of a violent dispossession of their native land and culture, as well as the loss of many loved ones. For them, the day is referred to as Invasion Day, Survival Day, Aboriginal Sovereignty Day or the Day of Mourning.
Of course, the violent colonization of Australia by white Europeans is not something buried in the past. Contemporary indigenous Australians are still fighting for land protection, sovereign governance and peaceful coexistence. They’re also finding ways to connect with a culture that was brutally uprooted centuries ago.
Frances Cannon, an Australian illustrator whose feminist-centric drawings convey the power of body positivity and self-love, chose to mark this year’s Invasion Day by honoring the indigenous young women who are very much a part of Australia’s artistic and cultural worlds today. Cannon posted a message on Instagram this week inviting women to send pictures and info about themselves for her to compile into black-and-white portraits.
The drawings translate the illustrator's subjects into earthly goddesses, dressed in flowers and emerging from bodies of water. Complete with body hair, tattoos, glasses and freckles, Cannon’s drawings communicate the simple mantra that women, as they are, are more than enough.
Each drawing also comes with a message from its subject describing herself and her relationship to Australian culture.
“I grew up knowing the Australian flag wasn’t mine, I grew up coping [sic] flack for being ‘abo’, but I grew up strong,” artist Hayley Millar Baker wrote, adding:
These days I make political photo-media work attempting to show the harsh truths about Australia after colonisation. I have been taught by my aunties and elders our culture, and have started weaving. I am also an educator and one day I hope to teach Aboriginal culture to all of Australians children. The First Nation people are important ― our history, our lives and what we offer should not be taken for granted.
See more of Cannon’s portraits, accompanied by the powerful messages of this generation’s badass Australian women, below.