Powerful Message Behind Indigenous Australian Artist's Face Masks

"I wanted to share that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people come in all different shades," said Yarli Creative's Madison Connors.

As the increased demand for face masks continues amid Australia’s second wave of the coronavirus, First Nations artist Madison Connors has been working around the clock to meet customers’ orders.

The Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung and Gamilaroi woman is selling four designs through her business Yarli Creative, with each mask featuring an original Aboriginal artwork print.

“Yarli Creative has had a hugely positive response thus far, and people are concerned about timely access given the requirements that are now in place in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire,” Connors told HuffPost Australia just before the Victoria-wide mask rule was enforced.

Each $35 face mask tells a story of “creation” and Indigenous culture. There are four main designs: Nitel (which translates to “gather” in Yorta Yorta language), Mulana Dreamings (mulana translates to “spirit” in Yorta Yorta language) and Power of Solidarity, which comes in two colour variations.

Power of Solidarity (two colour variations)

Yarli Creative's Solidarity of Power face masks
Yarli Creative's Solidarity of Power face masks

The Power of Solidarity masks depict raised fists amongst red, brown, yellow and black prints. Connors said the design reflects First Nations people “still fighting for redress of past injustices” as a result of colonisation.

When the British colonised Australia, Indigenous people were victims of violence, forcibly removed from homes, separated from family and placed in missions and reserves.

“This image depicts the strength of First Nations peoples, and shows the power of ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’,” she said, adding the fist print shows the diversity of the community.

“The fists in the middle of the image represent unity of our people. I wanted to share that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people come in all different shades, so the fists are varied in colour, just like us.”

The earthy colours reflect First Nations people’s connection to country that “crosses deep through many generations and runs through our blood”.

Nitel

The Nitel masks depict “women working together to gather what they need for their families”.

“The women create strong connections with one another and empower each other,” said Connors.

“This need to empower our women, to strengthen ties, build upon relationships, to share, to heal, to bring everyone together is incredibly powerful.”

Mulana Dreamings

Yarli Creative's Mulana Dreamings face mask
Yarli Creative's Mulana Dreamings face mask

The Mulana, or “spirit” masks, reflect “the gathering of community under the night sky”.

“It shows people gathering food, coming together and meeting around the campsite to hear the stories from their elders,” she explained.

“The night sky is covered with stars, and the animals come to listen too. This piece is one of three paintings. The stories all link, and it’s about sharing my spirit dreaming.”

Connors said it’s “incredibly important” to support Indigenous Australian businesses during the pandemic.

“Everyone can celebrate and promote examples of Blak excellence through various platforms. There are so many diverse and inspiring First Nations businesses across Australia that we can be supporting,” she said.

“If you want to know of more First Nations businesses you can support, start by following Instagram accounts such as @ngarrimili, @tradingblak and @blakbusiness. They share and promote authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses.”

Of the presale profits from Yarli Creative’s masks, 40% is going to Elizabeth Morgan House, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation that provides refuge accommodation and specialist family violence services to Aboriginal women and their children.

To order the Yarli Creative masks, click here. To see a list of more places where you can buy face masks that support Indigenous artists as well as migrant communities, click here.