My name is Brandi Salmon and I’m a young Indigenous artist from Mildura, north west of Melbourne, Australia.
My father is Wiradjuri but was adopted as a young child and didn’t grow up on country. His displacement effected my life too. It disrupted my sense of self, and place. Painting and drawing helps me deal with this sense of loss and confusion. I explore my identity, my Aboriginality, through creative practice. My mother is Tongan and European, she is very supportive. Despite being a single mother of eight, she still found time to nurture my creativity from a young age. She is the backbone of my family.
School didn’t really offer me the cultural experiences and support I needed so I was home schooled for many years. Whilst I found this isolating, it was good in the sense that I had the freedom to connect with and learn more about my own culture and explore my interests more freely. I recently completed a Bachelor Arts in Creative Arts at Deakin University’s Institute of Koorie Education. What I appreciated most about the course was the chance to connect with other Indigenous artists like myself. In my world creative practices are second nature and a huge part of Aboriginal culture. I’m exploring the person I want to become and see my creative self as part of this exploration and future.
I mainly paint Indigenous portraits, but I’ve been moving towards more impressionistic stuff lately. I’m really enjoying experimenting with my personal style. I’m currently exploring more abstract techniques, painting less traditional works, blending traditional Aboriginal art and contemporary processes. I’m also interested in appropriation - appropriating paintings by Frida Kahlo for example. The Rebel in me likes Kahlo’s works. I love the very direct stares she paints. For me the direct gaze is really important. Whilst I am a bit shy myself, I often paint subjects with this direct gaze and see my art as speaking for me in ways I may not be able to in person. The direct gaze in my portraits projects a straightforwardness - a frank and sincere provocation to look more closely at the contemporary Indigenous issues I am exploring and presenting.
I am also really Inspired by contemporary artist Vernon Ah Kee, a painter and drawer who includes text, video and sculpture in his works. Ah Kee explores his life experiences of colonialism and racism, bringing to light important personal histories and perspectives - something I feel my work explores too.
Brandi has just completed a screen printing residency with Mesh Mash (a social enterprise screen printing project) and Woods Street Arts Space in Laverton, west of Melbourne, as part of a creative partnership between Hobsons Bay Council and Deakin University’s Institute of Koorie Education. This Aboriginal artist residency program engaged Brandi (and an older Indigenous artist Paula Reeves) in designing and screen printing traditional artworks onto tote bags, tea towels and T shirts to help engage the local community in Indigenous histories and cultural experiences.
Paula and I gave a public talk and led a workshop as part of the residency, which was a really nerve-wracking but interesting experience.
Brandi’s current goal is to find time to collaborate with other artists.
I have Indigenous artist friends and plan on working with them in the future. I’ve grown up collaborating with my people in many cultural ways but want to include group artistic practice within my creative world too. Didgeridoo making is a really collaborative cultural practice for me. I often go hunting with my family and friends for Mallee wood to craft the didgeridoo from. Although Aboriginal women are not meant to play the didgeridoo (playing it is said to be bad for our reproductive system), we can help make them. The didgeridoo must be hollow, with no cracks. I usually help by knocking on the trees, listening out for the distinct hollow sound needed to make a good one. I also help strip the bark before letting the wood dry out.
Whilst sometimes traumatic, Brandi’s experiences of displacement, colonialism and racism have emboldened her, stimulating the artist and activist in her. She is now studying law at Deakin University’s Institute of Koorie Education.
People often ask me, ‘why study law? Aren’t you an artist?’ To be honest, I don’t see the need to choose one direction over another. I’m exploring how I can incorporate the two fields within a life practice that supports me and my people. I’m not sure whether I want to actually be a lawyer, but I definitely know I want to educate and support my people. I want to offer legal advice and support that is easy to understand and access. I’m currently working as a paralegal with an Aboriginal and family violence prevention legal service in Mildura. I hear a lot of negative stories, but it’s really made me want to get involved in changing the way we feel about and engage with our Indigenous heritage and communities. Whilst it’s good that we talk about Indigenous issues in public and in the mainstream media, it’s often in negative terms and often results in negative experiences for Indigenous people. I experience a lot of ignorance and discrimination myself. I also witness the damage caused by drugs, mental health problems and suicide within our young Indigenous communities.
As a young Indigenous artist... I sometimes feel that I’m not taken seriously enough because I’m young. From an Indigenous perspective it’s actually easier to be Tongan than Aboriginal. Being Tongan is a less politically charged experience. People, in general, have much more of an issue with me being Aboriginal than Tongan. I have experienced many racist views and have tried to make sense of them all. Racism even forced me to quit one of my jobs. I’ve come to the conclusion that you just cannot make sense of racism, no matter how hard you try. I’d like to think my future work, both within the creative and legal fields, will actively help people acknowledge and reduce racism.
Woods Street Arts Space
Link to artist page: Coming Soon
Photo of Brandi by: Digby Bishop