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Meet the Melbourne artist turning her art into reusable face masks

Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung and Gamilaroi artist, Madison Connors has turned her prints and paintings into PPE

Nicola Dowse
Written by
Nicola Dowse

The coronavirus pandemic and consequent shutdowns have had an immeasurable impact on everyday life. While no one has escaped unscathed, some, like artist Madison Connors, have used their time in seclusion to work on their passions.“When we went into isolation I thought I’m really going to focus and do something,” she says.

Connors is the Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung and Gamilaroi artist behind Yarli Creative, a Melbourne based art and design business. Growing up in Shepparton (her grandmother’s country), Connors was always painting, writing or drawing something. “Originally, I wanted to go to uni to do fine arts, but didn’t get accepted,” she says.

Connors moved to Melbourne with her family to pursue other opportunities and found work at a community health centre. Still, she was determined to follow her passions and eventually was accepted to study a bachelor of arts and health science, and during which time she also started selling some of her works, exhibiting in small shows and started her own small business. “Which I didn’t really put much energy into. I had so much else going on being pregnant, studying and working full time.” 

It wasn’t until Connors went on maternity leave with her second child at the start of 2020 – and then went into lockdown with the rest of Victoria – that she found the time to really amplify Yarli Creative. “It took me about a month to create the website,” she says. “And then it’s just sort of been snowballing from there.”

A woman with dark hair wearing a rust coloured shirt and round gold earrings leaning on a painting of green hills with a golden sun
Yarli Creative creator Madison Connors with artwork 'Yulila'Photograph: Supplied / Yarli Creative

The prints that Connors sells through Yarli Creative are inspired by her ancestors, as well as her experiences as an Indigenous person in modern society. “I draw inspiration from a number of different things,” says Connors. “The Aboriginal people in my family, the strength we have, the connection that we have to culture and the connection that we have to our country. And the feeling that you get within from being connected to that country; it's so special and it’s so beautiful.”

In addition to high-quality paper and canvas prints, Connors also puts her designs on clothing – including, in true 2020 fashion, reusable face masks. “I wanted to see my art walking around, and I wanted other people to see my art walking around,” she says. Connors’ desire to have her work worn is about more than just knowing people liked her art, however. It’s about creating a show of visual support for all First Nations people in our communities. “The people buying these masks, I want them to be strong allies and know that they’re wearing that mask because they are an ally and they want to provide a culturally safe space for other Aboriginal people,” says Connors. “It’s about having other Aboriginal people recognise that person is safe.”

An image featuring two images of the same woman wearing different face masks.
Photograph: Supplied / Yarli Creative

Through her business, Connors hopes to also give back to the community. “‘Wartakan’ means come with purpose in Dja Dja Wurrung language,” she says. “With my business, I come with purpose.” During mask pre-orders, 40 per cent from each sale went towards Elizabeth Morgan House, an Aboriginal community controlled organisation that provides refuge for Aboriginal women and children experiencing family violence. While pre-orders of the masks have ended (you can now expect your mask to be delivered within three to five days) you can still support the Elizabeth Morgan House by donating directly to the organisation.

With Melbourne’s orders to mask up going nowhere anytime soon, Connors’ is continuing to sell her masks through the Yarli Creative website (where FYI you can also buy her prints and clothing). The masks come in six designs based on some of Connors’ artworks such as ‘Nitel’, ‘Imparting Knowledge’ and ‘Healing Through Adversity’. All masks are triple layer in compliance with the DHHS mask guidelines.

Here's everything you need to know about Victoria's coronavirus recovery roadmap.

And here's where to buy even more face masks from local sellers.

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