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First Nations Artist Alysha Menzel On Creativity & Culture

With a diverse creative background that spans photography to illustration, First Nations artist Alysha Menzel’s ability to distil concepts into a range of mediums has seen her emerge as a leading multi-disciplinary artist. Together with her artistic practice, which includes a new commission for the Temple & Webster head office, Alysha works as a senior designer at Sydney-based creative agency Re, and has picked up numerous accolades along the way. For NAIDOC Week 2023, we caught up with Alysha to learn more about her Indigenous heritage, what inspires her, and what home is to her.

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Tell us about your Indigenous heritage and your family background. 

I'm a descendant of the Samsep Clan from Erub Island in the Torres Strait. My mother was born in Broome and grew up on Larrakia Country, Darwin. Dad is from country Victoria, and my parents moved to Kaurna Country, Adelaide, after they got together. My family is from all over, and my background is quite diverse; my mother's side is Torres Strait Islander, as well as Malaysian and Chinese, and on my father's side, there is German, English, Irish and other European ancestry. I grew up in Adelaide, but I have always had strong ties to Darwin and other areas where I have family.

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"Amplify"  by Alysha Menzel for Future Women
 

Talk to us about your artistic practice.

I am always curious about learning and exploring new techniques or creative skills. I think that's what's made me explore so many different disciplines over the years; photography, design, art, and the many sub-disciplines within these. My background in graphic design and photography has given me the ability to visualise and create work with a specific outcome in mind, regardless of the medium. 

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Photography by Alysha Menzel
 

What inspires your work?

Inspiration often comes from the natural world, and I like to get out of the city as much as possible to immerse myself, reconnect, and be on Country. I also follow many different artists, designers, painters and photographers, as I love seeing what other people are doing and how they're doing it. The common thread for me is the connection to the world around us, both in slowing down to beautiful moments that might pass us by and having a strong connection to Country.

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"Our Community" by Alysha Menzel for LinkedIn
 

You've been commissioned to create a painting for our Sydney office. Can you talk us through your artistic process?

When I caught up with the Temple & Webster team, we talked about Temple & Webster's values and beliefs, and the story they'd like to tell within the artwork. From there, I distil the key messages and concepts, then look at my practice and develop how to use my understanding and representations to form a conceptual plan for how the work will come about. I sketch out layouts and plans with digital drawing software to get an idea of how I will piece together the final artwork. Lots of trial and error goes into these stages, where I play with different colour combinations, mark-making and layouts to come to the blueprint of the artwork. 

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Photography by Alysha Menzel
 

The artwork celebrates the different ways Australians live, the beauty and heritage of Country, and the places we call home. What does home mean for you?

After living in Sydney for the past two years, my connection to home has become more important and more fluid. I've discovered that as long as I have people around me that I love, and places and spaces in which I can find peace and beauty, especially in natural surroundings, almost anywhere can feel like home. Overall, the concept of home sparks feelings of peace, solitude, warmth and happiness.

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Alysha's mother (centre) with Alysha's grandparents
 

This year's NAIDOC Week theme, 'For Our Elders', acknowledges the leaders, trailblazers and loved ones through the generations. Who are some of these people for you, and how have they influenced who you are today?

I'm inspired by my family first and foremost: my mother and father, my grandparents, aunties and uncles, my cousins, my brother and my new nephews and nieces. My family inspires me because of how close they are to me - but I also look up to all strong First Nations people who have left a mark and strived for equality. I take inspiration from the immense diversity of Elder artists from many different nations, such as John Mawurndjul, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Clifford Possum Tjalpaltjarri, Gloria Petyarre, and all the artists from Utopia Art Centre. I'm thankful for our ancestors who fought to give us a better quality of life, better representation and equality. I'm able to do everything I do now because of those who have come before me.

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Photography by Alysha Menzel
 

How will you celebrate these people in your life for NAIDOC Week?

I celebrate these people every day of my life, often through quiet contemplation and acknowledgment, whether that's a type of meditation or writing out thoughts through journaling. I often take a moment to give thanks in my own way because I know I am lucky to have what I have in a cultural sense of belonging and a direct connection to my wonderful mob. I will also most likely call or catch up with family to say hello and have a yarn, and make some trips to both Kaurna and Larrakia Country to spend time there and connect.

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Photography by Alysha Menzel

Check out Alysha's website and follow Alysha on Instagram to see more of her artwork, photography and design.

Also, watch this space on the progress of Alysha's artwork for Temple & Webster. 
Selma Nada Rajah 04 July, 2023

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