Hometown: Second Beach, Australia
Emma Hollingsworth spent her early years travelling between Aboriginal communities across Australia with her parents. Her aunties and uncles showed her the rich visual language of her culture and before she could even walk, she was painting and drawing. When she moved to the city at age 10, her world shifted and she had to adapt to a new way of life, but she used art as a way to stay connected with her cultural roots. Her works blend Aboriginal dot painting with her own unique, youthful and contemporary voice. Emma—who shows under the name Mulganai—is definitely one to watch for 2020, and we had the pleasure of catching up with her.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Second Beach, which is a stone’s throw from an Aboriginal community called Yarrabah. I grew up on the beach and every day I would fish, play in the water and walk along the sharp oyster rocks that lined the shore. Some evenings we would have bonfires by the beach and watch the sunset over the Cairns city skyline.
Can you tell us about the experience of exhibiting at the Queensland Museum and what it meant to you?
It was a dream of mine to exhibit in a museum or art gallery, and the fact that I was able to do it at the age of 20 was really special to me. The whole crew (DYA) was amazing to work with and I’m very grateful that they gave me that opportunity, which essentially launched my art career.
Do you think artists need traditional representation from galleries like they did in the past?
Due to the age of technology we’re currently in, I believe you can either choose to have gallery representation or you can utilise the internet and do it yourself. I have built Mulganai from the ground up by myself, and while it’s taken me a couple of years, my art has reached around the globe and I’ve done it all without representation. There’s definitely pros and cons to both, but it’s not impossible to have a successful art career without representation.
Is there any specific artist or community of artists who have helped you develop?
I grew up taking trips to see my mob in a small community called Lockhart. There’s this little art centre where my aunties and uncles would go to paint. They call themselves the Lockhart River Art Gang. Watching them paint and witnessing how their art affected their lives in such a good way, and seeing how they connected with culture on such a spiritual level, inspired me to take my art further and make a career out of it. I also follow many contemporary non-Indigenous artists who are a huge source of inspiration and who inspire me to colour outside the lines and make the art my own. One of my favourite artists, Gustav Klimt, inspired the use of gold paint in my artworks.
Who or what is inspiring you right now?
The current Black Lives Matter movement is a huge inspiration to me right now. What’s happening in America is also happening here in Australia to our Indigenous mob, and we are now seeing an opportunity to have a voice and platform to shed light on these issues. I like to paint what I’m thinking and feeling so I can try and make sense of all the issues that are currently going on.
What have you found most important to you and your practice in 2020?
2020 has been a crazy year so far and I’ve had to learn to go with the flow and see where it takes me. Being resilient, patient and true to myself has also been a huge factor in seeing Mulganai survive this year.
In your opinion, how can the creative community better engage with and appreciate Indigenous art?
Make our art available in public spaces, in spaces where there are other forms of art. Make it available for everyone to see and admire all year round. Teach Indigenous studies in schools and teach people about our culture and art. Our cultural art is so in-depth and beautiful, and learning more about our culture and being able to engage with and appreciate our art go hand in hand.
What’s keeps you motivated in your practice?
I keep reminding myself of how far I’ve come and why I’m doing this. I paint because I love art and I need to express myself as a young Black woman finding her voice, but I also want to use my platform to speak up for my people and the injustices we face. Times can be trying, but it’s so important to remind myself of the people who are counting on me, both near and far. Art is healing, and I know that it can make change happen.
What has been a favourite project of yours?
Working with The Body Shop and Amnesty International last year to create some beautiful gift tags for Christmas! The proceeds went to Amnesty’s Indigenous program, which is set up to help Indigenous youth in various matters, like offering us legal counsel and support.
Do you have any projects or exhibitions on the go you’re excited about?
I’ve just moved into my new studio, so I’m very excited to get creating again, and once COVID eases I would love to host another painting workshop. As well as that, I’d absolutely love to have my first solo exhibition, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. At the moment, I have a number of amazing collabs in the making, so you’ll have to stay tuned!
What are your hopes for 2020 and beyond?
I want to shine a light on Indigenous artwork and artists, and I also want to reach a financial goal I set for myself when I first launched Mulganai. I want to show other young Indigenous people that if they put the work in and persevere even in the rockiest of times, they can reach a level of success that maybe they never thought they could achieve.