Artists of the First Sunrise

Fighting for Rights through Art

Despite centuries of marginalization, neglect and prejudice, Australia’s Indigenous Peoples have continued to create art even through their suffering. Their innovative use of music, theater, visual arts, dance, and poetry to carry on the traditions of cultural ancestry has helped them adapt and re-invent their culture in spite of severe historical and contemporary challenges they face in Australian society – such as lack of education and healthcare and the highest percentage of imprisoned people on earth. These new artistic fusions of urban, rural and traditional cultures are evident in the story lines and music of modern Aboriginal performances.

Photo Gallery by project photographer Wayne Quilliam, see more here.

Artists of the First Surise is an exploration into the arts of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia. The foundation of the project is a documentary not just about these aboriginal artist, but by the artists. It is a showcase of performance by the people interwoven with interviews with the artists.

The film will feature the story of Letty Scott. Her husband was arrested for using indecent language and jailed for sixty days. After he was found hanging in his cell, the authorities deemed his death a suicide. Letty spent decades fighting for her husband’s vindication and, in 2005, got his body exhumed. Seeking help from parliamentarians, Aboriginal organizations, and human rights groups, she pursued action through the Australian court system and international bodies. The effort led to a forensic team who agreed that the claim of suicide was questionable and murder by prison authorities was more likely the cause. Letty’s aim before she died of cancer in 2009 was, as she put it, “to paint my way out of hell, dispossession and poverty, as an aboriginal artist, to old my head up with dignity and pay my way in society.”

The film will serve to provide a voice and an audience to the aboriginal artists in their fight for recognition and respect. It will be a tool to start conversations between first peoples and modern governments not only in Australia but world wide. In addition to the documentary, Artists of the First Sunrise will include an online living archive including videos of oral history, uncut interviews, and short films. It will also include artistic and material culture from aboriginal groups and a free, open-access educational curriculum covering the lives and culture of aboriginal people for secondary education students in Australia and world wide. The website will be a platform for international audiences to interact with aboriginal art and advocacy groups. It will also be a space for continued news and communications from the Artists of the First Sunrise project.

Open Hand Studios had the privilege of building a website for Artists of the First Sunrise. We will be partnering with the project team to design and build the online living archive and educational curriculum.

The cultures of the indigenous peoples of Australia are threatened and disappearing. Without a voice, their land and ways will be silenced and forgotten. Artists of the First Sunrise brings a voice and platform to the beauty and heart of the Australian Indigenous culture.

Project Website
Check out the Artists of the First Sunrise website at

Project Partners

Marla Gamze, Executive Producer

Rhubee Neale, Artist & Singer-Songwriter

Wayne Quilliam, Curator, Photographer, & Videographer

Sam Cook, Australia-Based Director

Tony Karman, President and Director of Expo Chicago

HMS Media, Director, Producer, & Cinematographer

Art Action Union

Northwestern University’s Center for International Human Rights