Amanda Hayman and Troy Casey first met in a professional capacity in 2017, and started dating not long after. Just over a year later and Amanda and Troy launched their first business and creative project together. They now run Blaklash, a 100% Aboriginal-owned creative agency that facilitates creative and economic opportunities for First Nations artists and designers in the space of public art, urban design and the built environment.
Next came a collaborative retail space with friends Mia and Nick Goding, Open House in West End. ‘Through this venture, over the years we have been able to support over 90 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses through selling their products’, Amanda tells me. Earlier this year Troy took over the operations of Magpie Goose, a brand stocked in Open House that partners with Aboriginal artists and art centres to create beautiful clothing and textiles, and has transitioned the business to 100% Aboriginal ownership.
Aboriginal Art Co seems like the natural extension of all the work that Amanda and Troy have embarked on together over the years. Led by Amanda, this beautiful new not-for-profit art gallery and retail space is a place for people to buy and learn about Aboriginal artists from across the country, curated by Amanda and Troy. It’s also a place for community to enjoy. And they’ve got big plans for the future.
Located in a former bank in Brisbane’s Cultural Centre precinct, Aboriginal Art Co is across the road from the Queensland Art Gallery. ‘There isn’t another Aboriginal-led gallery and store in Brisbane that is dedicated to promoting First Nations art from across Australia’, Amanda says. ‘It is important to have a physical space so that we can be visible, we can build rapport with our customers and community, and we have facilities to hold artist talks and gatherings’. There are hopes for an artist-in-residency and exhibition program, public walking tours, and creative workshops. An online store is also on the way, which will be launched by the end of the year (watch this space!).
More than ever, there is a great desire to support the work and voices of Australia’s First Nations people. But as we move into a place of greater demand for authentic and ethical Aboriginal art and design, it’s important to look first to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders like Amanda and Troy for guidance on what is actually helpful, supportive and best practice in this economy. That’s why spaces like Aboriginal Art Co are so important.
‘We pride ourselves in curating positive experiences and providing platforms for First Nations artists to make a lasting connection with audiences, cultivating artistic appreciation and similitude’, says Amanda. ‘We hope that visitors feel inspired by the stories they learn and take pride in Australia’s First Nations people. ’
Amanda joined us for an informative chat on the new space, and her hopes for the future of Aboriginal Art Co!
Hi Amanda! Can you please tell us a little about when and why you established Aboriginal Art Co? Was there a particular motivation or moment that inspired this?
In 2017, studies proved that approximately 80 percent of the shops selling Aboriginal ‘style’ souvenirs were selling items that were inauthentic and sourced from overseas. There was a national inquiry that resulted in a ‘report on the impact of inauthentic art and craft in the style of First Nations peoples’, released in December 2018 and provided the Federal Government with recommendations.
This was our motivation. We really wanted to provide an alternative to cheap souvenir shops, and create an Aboriginal-led company and brand that customers could trust. In 2019, we established Aboriginal Art Co with our primary goal of promoting Australia’s First Nations art. We have a focus on artistic, cultural and economic empowerment for artists whilst giving consumers an authentic and ethical choice.
What happens at Aboriginal Art Co? What do you sell, and what is your vision for the space?
Aboriginal Art Co recently opened a new gallery and store located in Brisbane’s Cultural Centre precinct. We sell paintings on canvas and some on bark, sculptures made from carved wood, sculptures made from woven fibres, lots of baskets, fish traps, clap sticks, larrakitj poles, homewares, hand-made jewellery and, of course, wearable art with Magpie Goose clothing.
We are more than just a retail store. We occupy a beautiful heritage-listed building called the Design Bank, originally a Commonwealth Bank built in the 1929. There is a nice little courtyard we want to activate with weaving circles and gatherings, a small artist studio upstairs and an old vault that we have converted into a gallery. We aspire to have an artist-in-residency and exhibition program, public art walking tours and creative workshops.
Where do you find the artists and designers you work with, and what is special about them?
Troy and I curate the gallery and store to ensure we have a diverse range of art from across Australia. We’re not your typical art dealers. Our model is unique as we don’t represent any particular artists because we don’t want to limit our impact. We also want to be as inclusive as possible.
We are relatively new to opening, so most of the artwork we currently have available is from artists and Art Centers we have an established relationship with. We love discovering new artists and really love when we see something original.
Aboriginal Art Co also has a set of values about supporting the continuation of cultural practices and being environmentally sustainable, so we favour handmade artworks with this in mind.
As proud First Nations people, what does it mean to you to be running this space that celebrates and shares art and culture?
Troy and I very proud to create another space that celebrates and shares First Nations art and culture. At Open House, we have mob who are comfortable to take their time to look around, but also talk loudly and laugh with each other – that doesn’t happen in all retail stores, especially small boutique ones. We hope that Aboriginal Art Co is also a space where our community is comfortable.
As blackfellas ourselves, we are intrinsically community-minded, conscious of our complex histories and sensitive to issues that affect Aboriginal communities across the country. We don’t pretend to know everything, but we take our responsibility of relaying art and cultural stories very seriously, and as curators we invest a lot of our time into understanding narratives so we can communicate appropriately to wider audiences.
We know how important it is for First Nations artists and makers to get their art and culture out to the world on their own terms. Aboriginal Art Co will provide multiple platforms for artists and Art Centres to reach new and existing audiences.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
Driven by a strong sense of ethics and sustainability with expert curation that recognise 60,000+ years of continuous artistic expression, Aboriginal Art Co is building a unique and enduring brand.
Established by creatives, curators and business owners, Aboriginal Art Co is a confluence of culture, art and commerce. Behind it all though lies a strong set of core values and principles. We are passionate about creativity and culture, experience and authenticity, ethics and sustainability, leadership and independence.
In saying that, we must be transparent and recognise the initial support to launch this initiative, Aboriginal Art Co has received financial assistance from the Queensland Government through the Arts Queensland Backing Indigenous Arts initiative through the Indigenous Art Centre Launch fund.
We are using this seed funding and hopefully others in the initial stages of our journey, and with enough support now, we have the ability to create a fully independent and economically sustainable business that can grow and branch off into other states and territories and ultimately have satellite stores not only across the country, but across the world. It is very exciting to think about the vast ripple of impact this company could create.
Aboriginal Art Co
89 Grey Street, South Brisbane (Meanjin)
Wednesday – Friday, 1pm – 7pm
Saturday 11am – 3pm
Closed Sunday – Tuesday