Storytelling through street art

Looking out across the city from the top of a scissor lift, Rachael Sarra is rolling a final layer of white paint on to her mural on the wall of Ipswich Health Plaza.

The huge artwork, titled ‘Distant Country’, is the largest of seven murals painted on walls across the Ipswich CBD as part of the Brisbane Street Art Festival’s Ipswich program.

Featuring her signature palette of vivid pinks and oranges, it tells the story of Sarra’s connection to country and her place as a contemporary Aboriginal artist.

“It explores the idea that although I’ve lived in Ipswich my whole life, I’m a proud Goreng Goreng woman and culturally I do connect back to Bundaberg, so it’s this idea of connection and disconnection and place,” Ms Sarra said.

“My work is based on my experiences, and as modern mixed race Aboriginal woman it automatically takes it away from the more traditional styles of Aboriginal art.

“I’m using tools that didn’t exist for our people even 20 years ago, let alone 250 years so I would say I’m playing a role in the evolution of our art as Aboriginal people.”

It took 12 days – and many litres of paint – for Sarra to complete the artwork, with the assistance of fellow artist, Gus Eagleton.

“Gus is incredible. His own work is amazing and I couldn’t have completed my work without him,” Ms Sarra said.

“He had lots of little tips and tricks from how to sketch to the scale of my wall and how to use a paint sprayer.

“It was definitely out of my comfort zone being so large and high and it was a lot of hard work but I think it adds a real vibrancy to our city.”

The 28-year-old Queensland College of Art graduate has always loved art, but didn’t always believe she could turn her passion into a full-time job.

“Art was one of my favourite subjects in school and it’s always been a part of my culture as an Aboriginal woman,” Ms Sarra said.

“It’s been a way for me to express myself in ways that I wasn’t always able to put into words.

“But I started to gain momentum last year after I quit my full time job and started investing in myself and my business.”

It’s a decision that’s paid off – in the past year alone, Sarra’s work has been emblazoned on the side of Brisbane City Council buses, projected in lights on the William Jolly Bridge and is in high demand following sold-out exhibitions and collaborations with jewellery label Concrete Jellyfish.

Rachael Sarra’s artwork ‘Two Worlds’ was projected onto the William Jolly Bridge in Brisbane. 

She has also designed uniforms for the Queensland Firebirds netball team and worked with Australia Post to design a stamp to mark the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.

Sarra is hoping her own achievements could pave the way for more young Aboriginal artists to be represented across contemporary art and design.

“It’s important to be able to see yourself reflected in our communities and expect higher of yourself than just a statistic, particularly for young mob coming up through the ranks,” Ms Sarra said.

“I struggled growing up with my identity and often used self-deprecating humour as a way to deflect any questionable comments.

“Now through art I am able to play a role in redirecting the Australian narrative and occupy a space. If I’m just one artist who’s found a safe place to belong and explore who they are, imagine if we held space for multiple artists.

“Art honestly saves lives.”

Rachael Sarra’s mural ‘Distant Country’ is on the side of Ipswich Health Plaza, visible from East Street. All seven artworks which have gone up across Ipswich for the Brisbane Street Art Festival are now complete. 

Click here for a map and locations of where to explore the new street art across Ipswich.

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