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You may already have glimpsed Hayley Millar-Baker's artwork and never realised it - perhaps you've seen one of her photographic assemblages roll past on the side of a Melbourne Art Tram, or up high on a billboard above the Substation arts hub in Newport. Selected as a finalist for the established John Fries Award, a prize historically bestowed on emerging contemporary artists who go on to achieve significant milestones in their careers, Hayley is an artist to keep a close eye on.
Hayley draws deeply from her Gunditjmara heritage and the intergenerational experiences of her ancestors to depict the complexities of Aboriginal existence within contemporary Australian society. By meticulously layering and re-assembling photographic imagery sourced from her family archives, she digitally aligns disparate times and places to re-create her own version of history - the harmonious co-existence of Aboriginal culture and colonisation. Through this deeply personal and reflective process, Hayley explores the adaption and evolution of Aboriginal cultural practises, Aboriginal connection to land and Country, and acknowledges the strength and versatility of her ancestors.
We've had the pleasure of printing Hayley's work for the last 3 years, and more recently her upcoming series being shown in the prestigious John Fries award Finalist Exhibition, There is Fiction in the Spaces Between. We have really enjoyed watching Hayley's work evolve over the years and look forward to seeing what exciting work she brings in next! Read on for some fascinating insights into Hayley's artistic practise.
Apart from my own drive, these stories are also driven by my family and ancestors. My ancestors weren’t allowed voices, and even up to my mother’s era it was really risky for her to have a voice as an Aboriginal woman without some sort of backlash or consequence.- Hayley Millar-Baker
What made you decide to pursue a career as a visual artist?
I don’t think there was ever a time that I thought I might be something other than an artist. My Grandmother on both maternal and paternal sides were amazing painters and crafters, my mother an incredible illustrator, so I grew up with that eye for visual imagery and translating that onto paper. I first said when I was 6-years-old in grade prep that I was going to be an artist when I grew up, and I followed that through secondary and tertiary education, and here I am.
Your major for your Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts was in painting. What has led you to develop your practise from painting to photography and digital collage as a medium? How does digital collage best communicate the concepts you explore in your work?
I’ve had a long relationship with painting, a long relationship for my 29-year short life. I love painting, I love the control over a fluid medium, the textures, all of it. But it wasn’t cutting it in terms of translating the complex stories I wanted to tell. For me, painting can’t be ‘true’ like how photography is considered a reliable source of genuineness. Painting is an inspired depiction, photography is the real-deal thing. As for using digital collage, I prefer to call it ‘assemblage’ as my work is very carefully calculated and planned from months of research and I feel collage is far too playful for what I do and the stories I tell. Through digital assemblage I can combine multi-generational imagery to consider histories that overlap through different lifetimes.
You’ve recently been shortlisted for the prestigious John Fries Award, and you are showing your latest body of work in the finalist exhibition There is Fiction in the Spaces Between. Can you tell us more about this series and the concepts you’ve explored?
I’m excited to show my series Cook Book Part 1 in the John Fries Award. I started working on this series in 2017 while I was pregnant as relief for the really heavy work I was creating at the time. Cook Book Part 1 is a little bit of a joke, but also much about the evolution of Aboriginal culinary, hunting and gathering, and creative practices at the hands of colonisation bringing in western implements and tools. As for the joke component, I’ve purposely made the images jagged, unrealistic, and odd, some of them are far-fetched, and some are truthful.
Your work addresses multiple issues within the complexity of Aboriginal existence in Australia, such as Aboriginal placement and identity within contemporary society, connection to land and Country, and the preservation of traditional cultural practises. What is the driving force behind sharing the issues that affect Indigenous people with your art?
I think for me the driving force of bringing these issues into this arena that is the Art World is my own learning, growth, and acceptance. Apart from my own drive, these stories are also driven by my family and ancestors. My ancestors weren’t allowed voices, and even up to my mother’s era it was really risky for her to have a voice as an Aboriginal woman without some sort of backlash or consequence. And from a mental health point of view, why risk it the violence? So here I am now, in a good time to have a voice, sharing as many stories as I can to make up for lost time over the past 300+ years that we were kept silent.
A lot of the imagery you use in your work is sourced from your family archives and you draw deeply from the stories of your family history to create narratives from their collective intergenerational experiences. As family plays such a large role in your work, how has having a child of your own affected the way you create art?
Having my own child has slowed down my making time that’s for sure ha ha! Having Maeve has further consolidated my belief in what I do and why I do it. At first, telling these historical family stories were a way to share Australia’s true history, to share a history my family never had a choice in, they weren’t able to speak up, and now I can tell their stories.
Who or what has been your biggest influence as an artist?
Hard to say… When I was young (and still now) I wanted to be the next Tracey Moffatt. Tracey has always been the apple of my eye. But my family are an ongoing influence to me as an artist. My grandfather for his photographic archive, my Nan for her wealth of knowledge of our histories, my ancestors for their stories, my entire inheritance is the biggest influence in my practice.
By assembling imagery from disparate timelines and events, your artwork creates alternative narratives by re-imagining Aboriginal and personal histories. Can you tell me more about why you have chosen this unique form of storytelling?
These stories are really heavy in one way or another, stitching them together like a storybook picture is lighter and playful, its more accessible to people on the outside, and a picture tells 1000 words right? What does a picture made up of hundreds of pictures tell? An entire history!
What is your primary platform for selling your artworks, and is your work available to buy as limited edition prints? For people wishing to purchase your work, what would be the best way to go about this?
I sell my work through Vivien Anderson Gallery in St Kilda, Melbourne. Given the nature of the deeply personal stories I tell I limit my prints between 5-7 editions. In saying this, I prioritise museums and arts institutions when selling my work.
You’ve been working with Image Science for over 3 years now having archival giclee prints made from your artwork. Why would you recommend Image Science to other artists and photographers?
I think the quality of printing at Image Science speaks for itself. Not to mention Image Science stocks my all-time favourite paper – Museo Portfolio Rag.
Catch Hayley's latest body of work Cook Book Part 1 can be viewed in the upcoming John Fries award finalist exhibition There is Fiction in the Spaces Between, which opens 21st July at the UNSW Gallery in Sydney. To keep up with Hayley's latest projects and exhibitions, follow her at @hayleymillarbaker on Instagram, or check out her website.