Rachael Sarra, visual artist, Museum of Brisbane
I can’t separate myself from my work. In many ways, I am my art. It’s like a visual journal.
The land upon which Meanjin/Brisbane sits has a storied past that stretches back long before the city’s founding. Aboriginal culture is one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures, with a rich history built over millennia by successive generations of First Nations people. Museum of Brisbane’s latest exhibition City in the Sun is focused on examining Brisbane’s subtropical image, showcasing newly commissioned works that probe beneath the city’s sun-drenched façade and leisurely demeanour. Goreng Goreng woman and celebrated visual artist Rachael Sarra’s contributed work, ‘Who Reaps What You Sowed’, interrogates Brisbane’s history and questions contemporary beliefs in order to showcase the area’s enduring legacy as Aboriginal land. We spoke to Rachael about the work, her love of vibrant colour and the values she seeks in collaborators.
To start, we’d love to know what encouraged you to embark on a career in art and design! Can you recall any moments, early in life, where your creativity first began to shine through?
I’ve always just felt like art and design was a safe space to express myself in different ways. It felt like art could be whatever I made it instead of trying to fit into preconceived boxes of other industries.
Your artwork is described as a reflection of your being, experiences, culture and heritage – what are some influences that you think have played the biggest role in shaping your artistic voice in your career so far?
It’s integral to me both as an artist and as a First Nations woman to only speak on my own experiences. Navigating not only this industry but my cultural background as a modern, urban First Nations woman has its privileges and its complexities, so my work is a reflection of that journey. I am a contemporary artist, so my influences are constantly evolving as my experiences navigating that journey shift. I guess for me, I can’t separate myself from my work. In many ways, I am my art. It’s like a visual journal.
You’re one of a handful of local artists who contributed work to Museum of Brisbane’s latest exhibition, City in the Sun, which examines Brisbane’s subtropical image and leisure-focused representation. Without giving too much away, can you shed some light on the conceptual direction you’ve taken with your work, ‘Who Reaps What You Sowed’?
As a guest on Turrabal and Yuggera Country it was important for me to not speak on or have an authoritative perspective on what ‘Brisbane’ or Meanjin should be. My work conceptually explores how I as a Goreng Goreng woman connect to the shifting images of Brisbane and question how relevant they are to First Nations people.
As storytelling and education is central to your work, what would you say ‘Who Reaps What You Sowed’ aims to communicate to audiences about this city and the Aboriginal history that precedes and continues within it?
‘Who Reaps What You Sowed’ is designed to question the subtropical images and historical biases that Brisbane has adopted. All of ‘Australia’ is Aboriginal land, however when we look closely, it’s marketed through imagery where our culture is not central to any of it, despite being the longest continuing culture in the world. You’d think that having such a unique position in the world, we would do a better job of supporting and preserving it.
Can you share some insight into your creative process? Where does a piece of work start for you and how do you build it up from idea to completion?
I need to feel something. I need to have an emotional connection to the work, the narrative and my why. Why do I need to create this work? What do I want it to say? How do I want people to feel? After that it’s just working with composition, the psychology of colour and the texture.
We absolutely adore the vibrant colours that you utilise in your art! What colours are some of your favourites to work with and how do you decide which hue to feature on a given piece?
Similar to the above I’m really conscious with the colours I use and how they make people feel. Tapping into the psychology behind each colour is a powerful way to help the work connect with the audience. I love working with calming and optimistic colours like pink and orange.
In addition to your artistic practice, you have worked on a number of collaborative projects with the likes of Hey Tiger, How We Roll, Peggy and Finn, and Matrix. What common values do you seek in collaborators?
Who I collaborate with is really important to me. I look to make sure that my work has not only a creative impact but a social and emotional impact too. Most of my collabs have a charity component to them as well as just a design collab. I loved working with Matrix on their new campaign because not only are they catering to a diverse range of consumers but they also donated $10,000 to Sisters Inside. Leveraging the presence of bigger brands not only allows me to share my culture but it was really important to use this opportunity to support local organisations that are on the ground doing important work for our mob.
Finally, we’d love to know how you practice self-care in your down time! What are some of your go-to methods to unwind and centre yourself?
Getting back into nature and the salt water is really important to me, but I’m a huge believer in setting boundaries before relying on reactive methods of care.
You can see Rachael Sarra’s latest work ‘Who Reaps What You Sowed’ at the Museum of Brisbane as part of its new exhibition City in the Sun, which is running from Tuesday to Sunday between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm.