Emma Hollingsworth, a Brisbane based Indigenous artist and proud Kaanju, Kuku Ya’u and Girramay woman, was commissioned by RiverCity Ferries to paint the River Journeys piece for the RiverCity Ferries Reconciliation Action Plan.
We conducted an interview with Emma to find out a little bit more about where she draws her inspiration from as an artist and what her vision is for the future.
What is your background and what do you do? I am a Kaanju, Kuku Ya’u and Girramay woman and I am the artist behind Mulganai. Mulganai is pronounced mol-ga-nai and the name means morning star in my language. The name was given to me as a blessing from my Aunty.
Have you always been an artist, what did you do before? I have been drawing, painting and creating since I was a small child. I have always been creative and practiced my skills, however I didn’t believe I could make a career out of art. It wasn’t until I was about 19 years old that I decided to take it seriously and really try my best to pursue it. I always had big dreams and my family and friends really encouraged me and supported me which I am eternally grateful for.
Tell us a little bit about your business, how did Mulganai come to be? I took part in an art program with a First Nations run company called Digi Youth Arts back in 2017. They gave me the confidence to pursue art further and I was able to complete my first ever exhibition in the Brisbane Museum during the program. From there I decided to take a leap and bring Mulganai to life.
What has been your biggest challenge as an artist and business owner? Initially when Mulganai was very young it was tough because there weren’t a lot of First Nations artists with an online presence. I took to social media because that was what I could relate to as a young person; I knew how it worked. It was tough paving that path and it took about a year for me to sell anything at all. There were a lot of days where I doubted what I was doing, and I really wanted to give up and go and work a normal job, but my family encouraged me to keep going – and I haven’t looked back since. Another huge challenge was having to wear all of the hats in this business. Some days all I want to do is create but packing prints or replying to emails instead takes priority. It can be tedious work but it’s all part of running a business and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What motivates you as an artist? Painting and creating is a great outlet for me and it helps me to express myself and get my thoughts and feelings out onto canvas. I am motivated to work hard to improve my life so that I can be a self-sufficient First Nations woman. A lot of themes in my artworks are based on resilience, strength and hope so my vision is to reach people and inspire people through my artworks. I also strive to inspire First Nations mob, especially the young fullas who need guidance and need other mob to look up to, as that is what I needed when I was younger. I aim to share Indigenous culture with others to open up the door to conversation so that they can learn more about my culture and my people.
What is your creative vision? I would love to have my own fashion label in the future. My aim is to be self-sufficient and have an independent business where I can employ other First Nations people. I aim to have a multi-faceted business that encompasses textiles and fashion, original artworks, interior décor, merchandise, and exhibitions. Eventually, I aim to have my very own professional studio.
Who are your biggest influences? Gustav Klimt is one of my favourite artists and I often take inspiration from him. I started painting with gold and using different brush strokes, shapes and colours because of him. I am also very inspired by my family who came before me, namely my late Pa and his mother Matilda Rose. I grew up hearing stories from my dad and have always been inspired to try my best and pave my own path.
What is your dream project? My dream is to own my own fashion label. As a model myself nothing would make me more proud than to walk the runway or have other models walk the runway wearing my designs. I would also love to have a solo exhibition in New York and London when the time is right.
What’s your favourite or most inspirational place in Brisbane? There’s a small spot right near Woody Point where I go to paint sometimes by the ocean. It’s very tranquil so it’s the perfect place for me to unwind and focus on my artworks.
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RiverCity Ferries acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures, and Elders past, present and emerging.