Torres Strait Island brand Mooki Pen is blurring the lines of advocacy and art.
It’s the brainchild of Meriam/Badu woman, Madison Palemene, who is referred to as Mooki. With ties to both Meriam and Badu Islands, Mooki was born and raised in Mackay, Queensland.
The brand was born after Mooki noticed a lack of knowledge about her people and her culture.
“I realised that there were so many people who didn’t know where the Torres Strait Islands were, or that they were a thing. I was shocked,” she said.
“I began to see a lot of people who believed that Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples were all the same, it made me really feel like I needed to raise more awareness for my people.”
She recalls a moment between herself and her cousin, when she was gifted a traditional Torres Strait Island art book.
“Going through that, I began to see that we have all these contemporary-looking art styles that are part of our culture. I started to follow contemporary artists on Instagram, and I thought I needed to try it out,” she said.
“A lot of our people, they do lino art and painting — whereas I’m a digital artist. That means I do have my own way of doing things and I’ll always look a little bit different.”
Through creating, Mooki began to understand more about her culture and her own cultural identity.
“It took me some time because I didn’t feel too sure about how I’d step into making artwork. But over time, as I started to have conversations with different people, I started to become content with where I’m at with my cultural learning,” she said.
“It took me a while to get there, but when I did, I wanted to do something that came from me. It didn’t need to be anyone else’s.”
Mooki recently stepped out of her comfort zone with her business, creating a limited edition Torres Strait Island jumper.
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Although describing herself as an unfashionable person, Mooki has had a long-term goal of moving into contemporary fashion design.
“I was so excited, I’ve always wanted to move into textile design, it’s something I haven’t seen too much of. I want to create patterns of meaning that raise awareness for Torres Strait and its art,” she said.
As the brand gets more and more traction online, Mooki remains focused on her core goal — raising awareness for her culture, her people, and her home.
She recently helped create a banner for the Our Islands Our Home campaign, led by the Torres Strait Eight.
The Torres Strait Eight are leading calls for the protection of the Torres Strait Islands in the face of climate change and rising sea levels.
“I was surprised on how much people didn’t know … it made me realise that we do need to have people speaking up on this,” she said.
“It felt really sad for me to feel the seriousness of the campaign.
“We need change otherwise our people will end up as refugees, they’ll be displaced from their own islands.”
A bittersweet experience, Mooki said it was an emotional but empowering project.
“It’s so hard to know that people don’t care, or just don’t know. It was a raw and emotional experience for me,” she said.
“At the same time, it felt so empowering to share what is going on, and sharing about the Torres Strait and our people.”
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Taking a stand for her homelands, Mooki hopes her advocacy and her business will inspire her own children to stand strongly in who they are and where they come from.
“They’re growing up somewhere far away from the Torres Strait, I want them to feel content … I want them to step into who they are culturally and raise awareness too,” she said.
“When I started, I felt sorry, I wished people knew more about us, I felt sad. But it’s so important to take control of the moment, to teach others and contribute to improving the world around us.”
By Rachael Knowles