Helen Tiernan is a contemporary painter who explores the interpretation of Aboriginal identity and history, drawing on personal documentation and oral material as well as wider historical sources.

Born in Gippsland Victoria in 1952 of Irish-Aboriginal descent, Tiernan graduated from the Australian National University’s Canberra School of Art. Her work is held in private corporate collections in Australia, the USA, United Kingdom and Australia and in public collections including at Parliament House, Canberra, the Australian National University and the National Museum of Australia as well as the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Based on the conventions and elements of early European sea charts, ‘Colonial Wallpapers - Pacific Encounters’ takes as its starting point the panoramic French wallpaper design produced in 1805, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, which illustrated Captain James Cook’s voyages around the Pacific. It brings together images from these voyages with the mythical, romantic and ridiculous. This vast panorama questions to depiction of the Pacific that explorers brought back to Europe during the ‘Age of Discovery’. 

Colonial Wallpapers - Pacific Encounters is a significant as an example of a modern re-interpretation of Pacific history from an Indigenous perspective.

Purchased through the Australian National Maritime Foundation in 2017, it is now on display in the Navigators exhibition.

See more of Helen Tiernan’s work in our collection

View now