Artist Interview: Iluka Sax-Williams

Last month, Creative Spaces visited artist Iluka Sax-Williams at his Boyd School Studios space to learn more about his creative practice and inspiration.

A proud Tibrean (Torres Strait) and Taungurung multidisciplinary artist, Iluka’s practices span visual art, dance and design, however he is best known for his pokerwork on possum and kangaroo skin.  

As we chatted, Iluka unwrapped a piece of artwork and invited us to take a closer look. Titled Woora Liwik, translating to Sky Ancestors, he explains that the piece depicts the flow of history and knowledge of the Taungurung people, up in the high country. Hand pokerwork on kangaroo skin, Woora Liwik represents the Taungurung people’s connections stretching across land into deep waters, then extending up into the atmosphere.  

“Getting back to and reflecting Country has always been really important to me. With my artwork, I’m able to give great representation for my mob. I’m able to share the stories I was told when I was younger and articulate these in my own way, with my own medium.” 

Iluka describes the importance of possum and kangaroo skins to his practice. 

“The possum skin was one of the first mediums I learned to work on. When you’re born you start off with maybe one or two, then as you grow you add to it. By the time you’re older, you’ve got this massive cloak that can be used for warmth. Being able to show that history is important. The revival of this practice began around 1999 when Aunty Vicki Couzens got invited to the Melbourne Museum and found it had boxes of skins that no one had seen for over 100 years. Then, my mum worked on the 2006 Commonwealth Games possum skin cloaks. Being able to see the skins and work on them was something I found important to my culture.”   

Having grown up around his mother Annette Sax’s educational business Yarn Strong Sista, sharing knowledge has always been a part of Iluka’s upbringing. Combining his artistic practice with his passion for sharing knowledge, Iluka draws upon his pokerwork expertise to bring families together to teach the practice of working on possum skin cloaks. 

“Some kids have never had the opportunity to work on something like this. It creates an environment where everyone can talk and feel comfortable, and bounce things off each other.” 

Iluka describes being inspired by his mob, family, friends and those around him.  

“My inspiration also comes from my ancestors and the people before me, and how strong they were pushing through. Me being here and able to practice what I do is a sign of that. I’m creating new pathways and outlets through my own self-determination.” 

When articulating the goals of his work, Iluka wants to continue bringing his art to urban settings and aspires to see the city’s buildings and built environment reconstructed through an indigenous architectural perspective.   

“I really like architecture. Growing up around the city, you see these huge buildings. Being able to grow into a space where you can see it on the walls, foot paths, built into buildings.”  

Iluka’s space at Boyd School Studios is bright and inviting. Complete with a large working table as well as an office set up, Iluka explains that his space gives him the opportunity to focus on his creativity while also giving him the space to handle the administration that comes with managing his creative practices.  

“I used to do all of my work at my coffee table, and it took over my space. Here, I’ve been able to come in and build myself my own space where I can get comfortable and really get into my own creative flow. Having a dedicated creative space is second-to-none.”  

Iluka’s artwork and photography series will be showcased at MARS Gallery in Windsor from 1 to 22 July.  

Iluka Sax-Williams is the successful recipient of the Creative Spaces Aboriginal Creative Residency at Boyd School Studios. If you’re interested in applying for the next residency to commence in 2024, please contact us.