The Art of Healing: Jesus's belly button

The Art of Healing: Jesus's belly button
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Access fees

The artists talk about the response to the paintings on the Santa Teresa church wall. We see an Aboriginal interpretation of biblical characters such as Jesus and Moses. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

The interpretation of the Bible by the Indigenous artists brings a lot of the characters from the natural environment into the interior of the Santa Teresa church. The goanna, galah, magpie, along with Indigenous people making camp as well as an Aboriginal Jesus gives a unique interpretation of the biblical text, and the Indigenous artists weaving the ancient stories of the Dreaming through and into the biblical stories gives a refreshing understanding not only of the Bible, but of the country.


The Art of Healing synopsis

A documentary about an Arrernte woman Agnes Palmer, and her vision of painting the walls of the Santa Teresa church in Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), an Aboriginal community one hour south of Alice Springs.

The Art of Healing is part of the Nganampa Anwernekenhe series produced by Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) Productions. Nganampa Anwernekenhe means 'ours’ in the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte lanuages, and the series aims to contribute to the preservation of Indigenous languages and cultures.


The Art of Healing curator's notes

A beautifully told story about the vision of Arrernte woman Agnes Palmer, and how her vision of telling the biblical story with Aboriginal characters became a reality. The film itself tells of the interpretation of a traditional Western text (the Bible) through Indigenous expression. It is expressed in filmic terms through the fusion of colours, shapes and texture in that the Aboriginal artists directly inspired by their environment literally use Western space (the church) as the canvas and through their interpretation bring the Dreaming alive through the telling of biblical stories.

Notes by Romaine Moreton


Education notes

This clip shows Eastern Arrernte women from the Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) community in central Australia talking about the murals they painted in the Santa Teresa church and the effect their paintings have had on their community and visitors to the church. Slow-moving close-up shots show sections of the murals in detail, such as Jesus, a nativity scene with Aboriginal people, the landscape, birds and animals. The women speak in a mix of English and Eastern Arrernte subtitled in English, and guitar music plays in the background.

Educational value points

  • The artists reflect that being in the presence of the murals is uplifting and beneficial for themselves and others in the community, who feel proud of the work they created. One of the artists explains that the people who made the paintings are still strong and ‘walking in God’s way’. The artists’ experience of creating these murals, which are a remarkable and visible expression of their syncretic (mixed blend of) beliefs, is clearly linked with their ongoing spiritual life within the church.
  • The women painters in the clip observe that their paintings appear to affect some visitors to the church. Their comments reveal that for them the murals are more than static representational artworks. One woman says that when a tourist saw water moving in the baptism mural, it was as though the art was capturing her wandering attention and demanding her focus. In this way the women link some visitors’ unusual responses to the murals with the spiritual life of the church where it seems possible for the paintings to ‘come alive’.
  • The Santa Teresa murals illustrate significant stories from the Bible as interpreted by the Arrernte artists and located in their land or country. The river baptism scene has an Aboriginal Jesus and the nativity scene is depicted with an Aboriginal family. The kangaroo, goanna, galah, magpie and other creatures belonging to the country feature strongly in the work.
  • The murals are painted in a distinctive style developed by the women in collaboration with project coordinator Cait Wait, a non-Indigenous professional artist. Wait trained the women, some of whom had never painted before, in non-Indigenous painting techniques including colour theory and perspective, and encouraged their individual artistic strengths. Wait fuses a lyrical realist style with a strong colour palette to explore a range of subjects including portraits and storytelling.
  • The Ltyentye Apurte community, to which the women in this clip belong, is 85 km south-east of Alice Springs and home to approximately 600 Arrernte people. It was established as the Santa Teresa Catholic Mission in the 1950s by a lease of crown land granted to the Catholic Church. This lease was automatically converted to Aboriginal freehold land with the proclamation of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Executive Producer:
Jacqui North
Series producer:
Rachel Clements
Robyn Nardoo
Robyn Nardoo