Bible stories told through Indigenous art

Waniwa Lester has drawn since she was a little girl at a mission school at remote Ernabella, the same place where Christianity came into her life.

She reached adulthood before she started painting, watching the work of others as she developed her skills.

When she looks at her dot painting — in the rich colours of central Australia — a bright crucifix she has put in it gives her strength, she said.

"I painted the Last Supper, Christ sitting with his disciples."

More than 60 Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal artists have contributed to Our Mob, God's Story, a book just launched in Adelaide.

It tells Old and New Testament stories through the eyes of Indigenous Australians and was seven years in the making.

Lester said she had long believed the creation stories of Aboriginal culture and parts of the Christian Bible were intertwined.

"You remember the story in our way and then open the Bible and see what it's saying," she said.

Book to support Bible translation efforts

The book is a Bible Society publication for its bicentenary, with the artists donating their works and funds raised earmarked for efforts to translate the scripture into Indigenous languages.

The co-editors of the book are Louise Sherman and award-winning Adelaide author Christobel Mattingley.

"It was very exciting to see the wealth of different styles — amazingly complex and amazingly professional — beautiful, beautiful artwork," Ms Mattingley said.

"So many different areas, so many different groups and people's experiences — it's really been quite astonishing how it's all come together."

Ms Mattingley said she was conscious of a complex relationship between Aboriginal people and the church.

Missionaries took the Bible to Indigenous people across Australia, but some also were involved in supressing Indigenous languages and separating children from their parents.

Ms Mattingley said the artists chose not to focus on negative events of the past.

"[They] didn't really — their love of God and the spirit of creation was paramount for them," she said of their artwork.

"I hope it brings a new respect and understanding for Aboriginal people and opens people's minds and hearts.

"There is so much in the book that's so deep and perceptive."