Gayandinyam Agnes Zena is an artist who has recently decided to make the Coffs Coast home. Art is something that has always played a huge role in her life, through family and culture, and her pieces are made using ethically sourced natural materials and recycled resources.
Hi Agnes. Can you tell us how you came to be here on the Coffs Coast?
I needed an escape from living in the city in Brisbane and happened to meet a lovely human, Travers Ross, who was visiting Brissy for a week and then heading back home to Coffs, so I jumped at the chance to tag along. He had to put up with a sensitive island girl complaining about how cold it was, but he took me on a tour around Coffs’ beautiful beaches and also allowed me to visit his family’s farm in Halfway Creek, and I fell in love with Gumbaynggirr country.
Where did your love of art come from, and when did it begin?
The love has no genesis, really; it’s just a part of my culture and my family. I’ve been creating art ever since I was a kid. Both of my parents being artists, it was inevitable I’d be a creative too. It wasn’t until 2012 that I truly started taking it more seriously as a career, and I’ve been freelancing for the last few years.
Where do you draw your inspiration from when starting an art piece?
A lot of my recent artworks speak on ancient Dreamtime stories that have been passed down to me by my father. I listen to nature, I speak to my ancestors and my higher self, and I stay aware of synchronicities and messages from the universe. I also use my artistic expression as a tool for activism, to speak on the environmental and social issues we face in today’s world.
What’s the process like from start to finish on an individual piece?
I had a client (when I was working at a barbershop in Brisbane) who is a writer and one day said to me, “If an idea is good enough, you don’t need to write it down to remember it”, and I thought that’s amazing. So, from then on I started putting that into practice. It starts with a concept, message or idea, and from there I stay grounded in that idea and the piece.
I like a fluid evolution of a piece, and I don’t create forced artworks. Each piece has its own journey. Some pieces need a slow dance and may take months to finish. Other times I’ll be in the right zone and finish a piece in a day or two.
Where do you source your materials from?
The Madagascan raffia I buy is sourced from my local art supply store in Brisbane, which I then dye with natural dyes such as turmeric, coffee grounds, avocado etc. Any other natural resources I use, such as Lomandra, palm, feathers, quills or seeds, have all been gathered by either myself or my father on Minyangbal (Northern Rivers) and Gugu Yalanji country (North Qld) and are all obviously ethically sourced. It is imperative to have permission from the traditional land owners to harvest resources on their country.
How does your culture play a role in your art?
It’s my foundation as an artist. Not every artwork I create is culturally centered, but I wouldn’t have my passion for art if it weren’t for my culture. Whether through visual art, dance or song, it has been one of the tools used by Indigenous peoples to educate, communicate and tell stories for centuries on this continent. My artworks are a way of documenting and keeping culture alive.
You also teach weaving workshops. How important is teaching to you, and what have been the responses from your past classes?
I’ve been teaching for just over three years now, and I’ve enjoyed being able to teach people a functional craft that has existed for centuries. I’m truly overwhelmed with the support from the people I’ve met at my workshops and have actually made friends with some of them. It’s beautiful to witness people from all different walks of life come together in a safe space and learn weaving, from festivals to community social groups to universities.
Weaving is something that can be very therapeutic, and I want to give that to people when they enter my weaving spaces. My most memorable weaving workshop was when I was invited to a women’s refugee social group. They were newly settled to the country and could barely speak English, but language was no barrier that day. I’d never seen that many people learn weaving so quickly in the time we had! It was overwhelming and heart warming.
You are also going to be directing some other events and retreats at AweMill, a
creative studio and retreat space. Can you tell us a bit about those events?
AweMill provides various services, including arts and entertainment, events, threads, film/production, project management, workshops, retreats, tours, wellbeing and artist development. I’ll be involved in facilitating Yanbalala art therapy, wellbeing retreats and weaving workshops. I’ll also be managing other artists in hosting their own retreats or workshops at the AweMill.
Where can we find out more about yourself and future classes and events?
I’ve recently started blogging, where I’ll be mostly sharing my story, but I’m hoping to start the conversations on environmental and social issues that need to be discussed. I’ll be holding different creative workshops at AweMill at least once a month, and all of my upcoming weaving workshops are at yanbalalaart.com – otherwise, you can follow @Yanbalala on Instagram and Facebook.
Photo Credits; Main: Gayandinyam Currie (photo by Yanbalala), Profile photo: Gayandinyam Currie (photo by Clarified Designs)