From the city to the surf, these three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists are making their mark by utilising unique canvasses to showcase their talent, skill, and Indigenous heritage.
Dreamtime stories passed down by Elders, aunties, uncles and inspirational mentors have been transformed into majestic pieces of art set to inform, educate and entertain people across the globe about Australia's First Nations people.
Intertwining traditional Aboriginal prints, totem animals and ancient stories with modern colours, themes and objects, these young and deadly artists are proudly sharing their heritage, ensuring their messages are imprinted on contemporary artwork to inspire, empower and lead the way for future generations.
Brodie Jarrett's skateboards
When it comes to skateboarding, not much can keep Brodie Jarrett away from the blades on his deck and the bowls in the skate parks, not even broken body parts.
In fact, a dislocated elbow was a pivotal moment for the Gumbaynggirr man, not just for his professional skateboarding career but his Aboriginal heritage too.
“I had time off to recover and would sit at home and stare at my boards so I decided to paint them. I’ve grown up knowing stories from my dad’s heritage and wanted to showcase my culture on my decks.”
Intertwining traditional Aboriginal prints, totem animals and ancient stories with modern colours, themes and messages, the 26-year-old’s work reflects current issues that need to be addressed.
“My favourite board reflects shark nets that were put in my hometown and how unnatural they are. I’m using a political painting and traditional designs to raise awareness about conversations we need to have,” he said.
“I blend Indigenous elements with non-traditional colours such as pink and green to showcase what I’m about and represent modern youth from the Gumbaynggirr clan.”
Growing up, Brodie never thought about pursuing his passion for skateboarding. After his parents split up he moved to Ballina and stopped surfing to skate instead, but it wasn’t until he turned 14 when he started to take skating seriously and uncover the roots of his culture.
“Being able to showcase my heritage on my talent is pretty bloody important, especially being a young blackfella.”
The 26-year-old continues to speed to success. From skating in competitions across the country to being sponsored by top companies, Brodie represents not only First Nation people of Australia in a niche field but aims to be a positive and proud role model for youth.
“Being able to showcase my heritage on my talent is pretty bloody important, especially being a young blackfella in an industry predominantly dominated by Caucasian people,” he explained.
“It shows we [Indigenous people] can actually do it – young blackfellas are intimidated because there aren’t many brothers skating. It’s good to see young Aboriginal boys getting involved and looking up to me for guidance.”
More than two years ago, Brodie uploaded a picture of a skateboard he painted and it was thanks to the power of social media that enabled his passion to help him make a bit of pocket money too.
“I paint sunset silhouettes in the Aboriginal colours, that’s my main style and it’s inspired from my dad. He is a painter too, I learnt a bit from him and he learns stuff from me as well,” he explained.
“I’ve sold more than 40 boards and got lots of followers on my Instagram who request me to paint for them… it’s not just young black kids, it’s all grommies (A nickname for a young, talented, action sports athlete under age 15 years), from across the country.”
For the past nine years Brodie has been working in construction but has always maintained a healthy balance between “work and play.” He regularly holds workshops at the Australian Skateboard Federation, where he teaches youth how to paint Indigenous prints on boards.
“There’s a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and I teach them what I know about Aboriginal culture.”
“My aim... show off not only my skating skills but my Aboriginal culture on my boards as well.”
After being spotted skating in Melbourne, Brodie is about to embark on his first sponsored trip overseas, where he will show off his skills in Brazil. He says skating is a special thing that can take someone with talent all over the world.
“I’m as professional as it gets for an Aboriginal bowl rider. I’m the only one I know who rides consistently at comps.”
Brodie labels himself as a bit of a “show pony” and says it’s important to make yourself seen and heard in the skating world.
“If I don’t have confidence in what I’m doing - how are other young Indigenous or non-Indigenous kids going to have the confidence to do it?”
For the first time in history, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will see skateboarding introduced as a sport. Brodie has high hopes he’ll be selected for the team and not just to represent Australia, but First Nations people across the globe.
“My aim is to make the team and show off not only my skating skills, but my Aboriginal culture on my boards as well,” he said.
“There’s way too much pressure for young black kids to play footy. There needs to be more contemporary Indigenous role models and I hope I’m that for some young people out there.”
Zachary Bennett-Brook's surfboards
Growing up in Wollongong on Dharawal Country, Zachary Bennett-Brook has always been surrounded by the ocean's blue walls, sandy floors, and water-based activities.
Being Torres Strait Islander, the ocean has always played a vital role throughout his life and has now lapped over to his professional career. His distinctive hand-painted surfboards represent the epitome of Australian culture - blending traditional prints and designs with modern contemporary pieces, enabling Zac to establish his label, 'Saltwater Dreamtime.'
“The ocean is ingrained within my cultural heritage and is often represented throughout my artworks and designs,” he said.
"My art is a way I can connect to my Indigenous culture and I think through painting on different mediums such as surfboards I’m able to start conversations with people who may not have been as receptive to Indigenous culture before."
"I want to share my art with people from all over the world and create positive awareness about Indigenous culture and the importance of knowledge/education so we can all learn from one another."
Breaking into the Indigenous art scene was challenging, but soon enough Zac ditched canvas for an old surfboard which drew the attention of locals.
“My art has commonly been called unique and often an eye-catching perspective of contemporary Indigenous culture blended with surf culture.”
Zac connects to his Indigenous culture by sharing stories on his boards, utilising contemporary colours along with traditional dot art techniques but with a modern twist.
"The designs I paint have various meanings from water flowing and moving to designs based around travel and of course family."
It hasn’t taken long for Zac and his Indigenous artwork to gain worldwide recognition, with various pieces being exhibited and shipped all over the world. The 26-year-old's art also appears on socks, board shorts, wetsuits and in true blue Aussie style, even budgie smugglers.
"If I can share my art with people from all over the world and create positive awareness about Indigenous culture and the importance of knowledge/education so we can all learn from one another, I think that’s really important."
Alisha White's guitars
Holding a paintbrush in one hand and a guitar in the other, Alisha White looks around the room and pulls out her toolbox of painting equipment and her knowledge of Dreamtime stories.
By the age of 14, the Kamilaori/Wiradjuri girl had her artwork featured across the country - from the Sydney Opera House to the National Gallery of Australia; it was the beginning of Alisha’s artistic journey.
“I didn’t know how good I was at painting until other people started noticing my work.”
Mentored by established artist, Colin Wightman, also her late cousin, Alisha says he not only guided her with painting skills but also stories about their Indigenous heritage.
“I felt so honoured to be able to work with a famous artist, especially on such a significant piece of work like my pops coffin. We were the only ones asked to paint tributes and stories from our culture.”
Soon after an increase of community members began recognising Alisha’s talent, but it wasn’t until the 23-year-old’s mother, Francis White made a very special request.
"I’m a country girl and I love country music and if I can play the guitar even though I can’t fucking sing then I’ll make sure I learn how to do it,” Francis said.
“My father was a guitarist and as is my brother, so I’ve always wanted to follow in their footsteps. Now I have the time to learn how to play guitar but I said I wouldn’t pick one up until my daughter designed one for me. That way it pushes her to paint and pushes me to play.”
After Alisha finished painting the guitar, Francis took to social media to praise her hard work. It didn’t take long for colleagues, friends, and family to start recommending her work and requesting personalised guitars of their own.
“From that one guitar I’ve received a lot of attention, I’ve worked on and sold quite a few guitars already and I’m currently working on a Ukulele for baby Charlotte Victoria,” Alisha explained.
“I like to showcase not just my art skills but my culture, so anytime I can show off my heritage I do.”
Alisha’s first painted guitar featured in the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-Operative’s recent exhibition ‘Always were warriors’. Fellow mentor and Aboriginal artist, Leeanne Hunter who heard about the beauty of her painted guitars contacted Alisha to suggest submitting artwork, and she did.
“Between 20 to 25 artworks from Kamilaori or Wiradjuri artists were featured. Both my works were received well and sold quickly and I was able to showcase both sides of my Aboriginal heritage.”
After nearly two weeks of deadly dedication and messy paint pallets, Alisha completed her first artwork - Boobera lagoon, which was an Aboriginal story about a sacred site passed down by Aunty Bronwyn Speriam.
“I like to showcase not just my art skills but my culture, so anytime I can show off my heritage I do.”
Alisha, an admin in the emergency department at Campbelltown hospital, wants to take her career as far as her mentor Collin did. He toured all over the world, showcasing his work across the country until he unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack at just 40 years of age.
“Collin told me to quit my job and go travel the world with him because he was being asked to paint murals and artworks in cities across the globe.”
“As an Aboriginal artist I think it’s important to showcase our stories, culture and talent on an international level so the world can understand more about the oldest culture and First Nations people.”