Gumbaynggirr artist and activist, Aretha Brown has collaborated with Converse to create a mural in Collingwood that pays homage to Aboriginal Elders and entices conversation around urban Aboriginality and identity.
Brown’s creation graces the wall of Fitzroy’s Converse store on the corner of Kerr and Smith Street in Collingwood.
The Converse City Forest Mural is painted with eco-friendly paint and absorbs enough air pollutants to plant the equivalent of 128 trees.
The mural, in black and white, features the 20-year-old’s iconic style and serves to reclaim Collingwood and Fitzroy as a “cultural hub” for mob.
“Historically it has been the … epicentre for a lot of our politics, particularly thinking about fullas like William Cooper and the mob that started the Legal Service and Health Service, or the Aboriginal Child Services,” Brown told NIT.
“It’s our area, so it’s an honour to be able to do an Indigenous mural in that spot.”
Brown gained guidance in her art from Melbourne great and artist, actor and performer Uncle Jack Charles.
“He was telling me about the local area, we did some filming with Converse where we got to record some of his stories … he is really funny,” laughed Brown.
Brown also sought support from Wurundjeri Elder Annette Xiberras and employed young artists to assist her painting the mural.
Along with the mural, Brown designed a t-shirt featuring the message “Teach Blak History” which sold out overnight.
“T-shirts are such a good mechanism for activism because I think for a lot of whitefullas out there they want to know how to get involved with mob but don’t want to overstep their boundaries or make mistakes,” she said.
“Investing in something like a shirt or merchandise is a really great way to be involved and help. For mob, it’s a cool shirt to have and be loud and proud but also it offers allies that ally-friendly opportunity to be part of it.”
For Brown, the message is intrinsic to her activism. One hundred per cent of the proceeds made from the limited-edition t-shirt will be donated to the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition (NIYEC), which work with Indigenous youth.
“I only finished high school around two years ago, my experiences was recent but there was no Aboriginal history taught. There was literally nothing … there are so many problems that extend out of that including that absence of knowledge,” she said.
“I’m very much of the belief that we can’t have talks about Treaty, for example, or even start those conversations unless people are educated.
“I’d be scared if we ever did a referendum about Treaty whilst a lot of white Australians know literally nothing. It all starts in schools.”
By Rachael Knowles