We are honoured to announce our collaboration with Indigenous contemporary artist, Niah McLeod. Niah is a descendant of the Monero, Wandandian and Yuin people from south-eastern Australia. Niah’s art practice began as a form of meditation, and this background is evident in her exceptionally fine artworks that lead viewers on a journey. Through explorative visual mediums, Niah’s intuitive painting practice weaves tales of family history, heritage and language that is unique to her personal story.
We have admired Niah’s intricate, fine style ever since Natalie discovered Niah’s work when searching for a piece to add to our first small studio, back in 2016, so it is with great honour that we introduce you to the Walawaani collection. The Walawaani Collection is inspired by Niah’s commissioned painting 'Gupu Dreaming' - a piece created in celebration and awareness of this year’s NAIDOC theme, Heal Country – offering a tangible reminder of our interconnectedness, and our responsibility to nurture and respect the world and each other.
Here, we chat with Niah about the collaboration, her creative evolution as an artist and all the things that make her the woman she is today.
Please share with us a little bit about yourself, including the defining moments that have contributed to the person you are today?
I am a proud Monero, Wandandian, and Yuin woman and first and foremost a mother of 2 little rascal kiddies. I try my best at being patient, but they definitely push all the boundaries haha.
I have just turned 30 and have reached that moment where I can have a night away by myself and not feel guilty about being away from my kids, so I am slowly re-establishing who " I am" and what makes me "me" which is really nice.
Defining moments that make me 'me'? I honestly think every person I have involved in my life has made some type of impact and helped me become the person I am today. I think there have been a lot of defining moments, like reconnecting with all of my family from when I was a baby and re-awakening my deep sense of belonging, connection and language.
I grew up with a single Mother who had me at 19, so I know how capable women are at being strong independent incredible people. I have family and friends who are constantly battling with mental health, so I understand how important it is to look after ourselves...these things for me are my defining moments, but it's never ending, it's every day.
The way you create, purely based on intuition, moments and feelings, is what we love most about your works of art. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative evolution as an artist and when you started exploring your creative abilities?
I have always been creative, my mum is an amazing painter and drawer, so I've always grown up with that. My grandmother was a remote area midwife, so she would work out in the communities and would always send home these beautiful paintings by desert artists.
I did art as a subject in school...and failed! Art class was drawing still life images of fruit and vases, and I cannot for the life of me draw an object, so I thought I wasn't great at art and never pursued it. It wasn't until 8 years later, when I suffered from really bad anxiety, that my mum told me just to start getting creative again. She took me to an art supplier and I started painting. It was a black and white dot painting, I painted the whole thing with a tiny skewer and I loved every second, it took me to another world. I then sent it to my Grandmother on my father's side, just to say 'this is what i'm doing' and it just felt right to do that.
I moved to Sydney for work, I was modelling and working in bars and was painting just as a hobby. I entered an art exhibition and got in! Soon after I had a phone call from my sister saying my grandmother was passing away and I should say goodbye. Mind you I hadn't seen my family since i had left the south coast when I was around 2, so there i was on a train by myself to Wreck Bay, I was picked up by my brother and I walked into a room of brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins, you name it. I was so overwhelmed I went numb, it was incredible and a moment I will never forget.
After that I got the train back to Sydney, quit my job and turned to painting full time. I had my first exhibition and sold every piece. I will never forget that feeling of the last day of the exhibition, (where I also found out I was pregnant with my daughter), a little sad that I had nothing to take home because I always have such a big connection with my paintings but feeling so exhilarated at the same time.
We’re so thrilled to be working with you on a commissioning piece in celebration of this year’s NAIDOC theme, ‘Heal Country’. What does this theme mean to you?
I think the guys at NAIDOC week put it better than I possibly could – a call for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.
Off the back of that, I’d like to see the real history taught - warts and all - from pre-school all the way through to year 12. I don’t remember being taught about heroes like Pemulwuy or the harsh truths of our slavery past – in my opinion education is the key to healing country.
It’s evident to us, that this piece has been created from the heart. What story does this piece tell?
I very rarely provide a story narrative with my pieces. Most of my paintings I try to capture a moment of emotion, unless I specifically have something in mind from the start. With this specific piece, the story came to me after completing the painting; it's a story of freshwater meeting saltwater. It's called "Gupu Dreaming"
Along with being an award-winning artist, you’re a mother to Matilda and Darcy. In what ways do your children influence you?
They definitely keep me grounded, I try and promote delving into your passions to my children as much as I can. They influence me to learn as much as I can so I can teach them. They push me beyond any limit I knew I had.
They are so cheeky!
For Australians who are committed to learning about the rich history, diverse cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, what more can we be doing to move towards a better, shared future, that acknowledges how we got to where we are today?
We all, Aboriginal or not, can take the effort to jump on google, go to your local library, read books, Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, or Pemulwuy by Eric Wilmot as examples – to research and educate ourselves on our past.
The opportunity is at the touch of your fingers to learn about what happened/is still happening to Indigenous Australians and we’re at a great time where if we teach the next generation what we know, we can break the cycle through knowledge. Ask questions, if you mess up, say sorry and learn from it. There is so much discussion around this and I think everyone can have a moment to stop and listen.
For generations, the NAIDOC observance has been calling for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of indigenous culture and heritage. What changes do you want to see implemented in future?
I’ve said this in previous interviews - there needs to be stronger measures and tighter restrictions in place to stop corporations and entities exploiting Indigenous artists that may not know their rights, if not restrictions, then support set up.
Seeing companies put out ads where the artists gets “exposure and flights” in exchange for creating a piece of art that’s used on a football guernsey - which then goes on to sell thousands of copies and make that company profit - this has to stop. Gas companies destroying sacred sites and apologising later – are you kidding me?
There needs to be government measures in place to protect sacred sites, similarly to ancient cultures around the globe. Education is key, at all levels, from 5- year-olds in school to 50-year-old mining CEO’s – I truly believe that if people knew the results of their actions at face value, they’d change their ways. Surely.
Here at NMJ, we are inspired by stories, stories that weave tales of love, connections, memories and feelings, it’s the core of who we are and why we do what we do. What does storytelling mean to you and are there any that you hold close to your heart?
Jewellery to me is a form of self-expression and individualism. I absolutely love reading books, I am never without one; it can be a soppy rom com or a heart-warming drama, I absolutely love exploring new stories from all over the world! I absolutely love Lucinda Riley's novel - The Seven Sisters - currently reading her last and I can't put it down. An incredible story following seven sisters and their own paths chosen in life. I love any story that takes me into another world, new experiences etc.
What is your intention at this moment in life?
At this moment? Right now, it’s frantically trying to stop my son, Darcy, from picking up a lizard whilst my partner and daughter loudly wrestle in the background. The intention of this moment – to find a quiet place, with my laptop and switch off for 30 minutes haha, ah!
Photography: Katrina Parker