Emma Hollingsworth, the artist behind Mulganai, is a Kaanju, Kuku Ya’u, and Girramay woman operating in Meanjin.
Exhilarating and intricate, Emma’s art speaks of her journey on Country through the use of brilliant colour and skillful storytelling, all with an inherent sense of joy that is distinctively her own.
We are honoured to celebrate our collaboration with Emma for the NAK Hair 2021 Signature Holiday Collection, featuring her original artwork titled ‘My Healing Country’ which so perfectly captures her bright outlook and intrinsic connection to Country.
We recently met with Emma just days after the opening of her first-ever solo exhibition. A true artist in every sense of the word, Emma’s love of painting is as palpable as her talent. At even the shortest breaks in shooting, we would find Emma sitting on the floor mixing colours on her palate or standing at her easel painting during lens changes.
"My parents used to catch me drawing on walls! I just drew all the time and I’ve been doing it ever since."
In this conversation, we learn about Emma’s inspirations, her life as an artist, and how her deep connection to Country flows through all aspects of her life.
We are such fans of your beautiful work, and it has been such a joy to get to know you during this collaboration! How would you describe your style of art?
My style of art is Indigenous art. It's very contemporary, with traditional references in there. But over the years, I've developed my own style and put my own twist to it. It's very youthful and vibrant and really fun.
Your use of colour of such a beautiful element of your work. What draws you to use colours that way that you do?:
I love using colour because I feel like when you use really vibrant colours, it really lifts your mood. I try to incorporate a lot of colour into the majority of my paintings, because I love evoking that feeling of happiness. I love that people look at it and feel happy and really curious about the art, but also curious about my culture as well.
It sounds like you are also exploring in your artworks:
Definitely. I'm definitely exploring. I love to experiment with different colours, different techniques. I also reference a lot of contemporary art as well like Gustav Klimt, he is one of my favourite artists. That's actually where my love of gold came from and that's why I started using gold in my artworks.
How do you like to use gold in your work?
In most of my artworks I use gold sparingly, I feel like it adds that real little pop of colour. But in some artworks, like the artwork I did for NAK Hair, the entire background is gold. I really wanted to make it pop!
Can you share a little bit about where you grew up, and how is has inspired your art?
I grew up in far north Queensland. I grew up outside a little place called Yarrabah which is a mission outside of Cairns. I grew up in the bush, but I also travelled a lot. I travelled to the Cape, which is one of my groups, my family groups, where we're from. I also travelled down south to Cardwell and in the ranges, which is Girramay Country. I feel like these places, they're very tropical and very hot. Everything's vibrant and very beautiful there, and I feel like that also has a huge influence on my art. I love those colours. I love incorporating the vibrant reds and pinks and greens into my artworks. It's played a huge part in influencing my work.
What was the inspiration for the artwork you created for NAK Hair?
It's inspired by the ocean, it's inspired by the waterways, the Country itself, really. In the artwork I've depicted my three countries that I recognise, so that's Kaanju, Kuku Ya’u and Girramay, and it represents a journey over those three countries. It represents how everything ties in on the land and how as an Indigenous person, I'm intrinsically connected to that Country, to those countries, and how I have such a deep connection with it. We are raised to care for it and take ownership of it from a really young age, so I wanted to depict that in the artwork.
How does it feel to see your work translated to packaging and being taken different places than just your canvas?
I have goosebumps just thinking about it! It is such a surreal feeling seeing my artworks on these boxes, because when I was younger I couldn't have even dreamt about doing projects like this, and now it's actually happening. It's the most insane thing.
One of our favourite elements of your artwork for NAK is the beautiful footprints. Can tell us the meaning of these footprints and how they fit into the story of your artwork?
In the artwork, there's these little tiny blue footprints. I wanted to add a human element to the artwork and those little footprints represent the journey lines that go up and around the artwork, so it represents the journey that I took on Country.
Can you explain the journey lines a little bit more and what they mean in the artwork and how they connect different places?
The journey lines are these beautiful little wavy lines on the artwork. It's an abstract way for me to describe the roads that connect the different communities, and then also represents the paths that we take on Country. So when we walk down to the waterfall or when we walk along the beach, it's all very connected.
What advice would you have for aspiring artists?
I feel like the most important thing is to definitely persevere. You have to keep going. There's going to be setbacks but you just have to keep pushing through. You also have to ask yourself why, why are you doing it? And if it's a good enough reason and if you love it that much, then keep going, because eventually you will break through and something will come along. Then from that, it'll grow and grow. Which is exactly what's happened for me.
The NAK Hair x Mulganai 2021 Signature Holiday Collection is available throughout October, November & December at NAK Hair Salons, stockists and retailers.