“I paint to keep myself calm and relaxed, to ground myself and wash away all my worries.”
Christinaray, 25, is an emerging Indigenous artist whose journey in life has not been linear. Overcoming many hurdles, she has found art a source of strength and inspiration.
Now, her striking portfolio includes a painting which adorned two trams this year. Melbourne commuters travelling along routes 70 or 75 from August to November would have literally boarded her artwork.
“To have a piece of your art, and your face, on the side of a tram, it’s just amazing,” she says. “I never thought that would be possible.”
Christinaray called her tram piece “Whirlpool of Emotion”. She used the platypus as a motif to symbolise the theme of “being yourself”. The native animal fit the theme, she artfully suggests, because “the platypus looks like a bunch of different animals all put into one”.
In the painting, “the platypuses are swimming alongside you, telling you to be yourself and to not let people get you down, no matter who you are or what the colour of your skin is”.
Christinaray is a determined young woman of the Warumungu people. Born in the Northern Territory, she moved to Melbourne when she was very young and has negotiated many obstacles in life already, including family violence and hurtful stereotyping. Owing to a combination of pressures at home and in the classroom, she wasn’t able to finish secondary school.
“I tried but I ended up dropping out in Year 9. I was just done,” she says. Facing racial slurs at school, she began to address questions of belonging by asking herself who she was.
“At the time, it just made me feel shame, like, is my culture something I should be proud of. Are we bad? Why aren’t we the same? What’s wrong with me?”
Home life also continued to be challenging. Some days, she says, she would have no choice but to leave home and sleep on a friend’s couch. Sometimes the street seemed a safer option.
After a year off school, bouncing between a turbulent home, friends’ couches and the street, there was clarity.
“One day I was just like, I’ve got to do something. I can’t shut myself in. I can’t, you know, tap out.”
She sought support from various youth services in St Kilda and Port Melbourne, and resumed her education. It was also during this time, with the support of youth workers and friends, that Christinaray rediscovered her childhood love for painting. One friend, a skateboarder, got Christinaray to design and paint his board. This re-ignited her muse and opened up a new creative path. It also prompted some hard thinking about her future. At age 20, still without stable accommodation, Christinaray left her family home for good.
After staying in a women’s shelter, she found a unique student accommodation that supports young people who have been homeless or at risk of homelessness. It gave her the fresh start she had been seeking. Jointly run by not-for-profit agencies the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Launch Housing, and funded by the Victorian Government, the Education First Youth Foyers help to break the cycle of youth homelessness. The Foyers provide 16 to 24 year olds with safe and affordable housing for two years while they study towards a career. Each Foyer is located on TAFE campuses and is geared to preparing young people for independence.
Christinaray’s time at a Youth Foyer was a transformative experience, especially for developing as an artist.
In 2016, her creative talent was harnessed by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, which commissioned her to paint a mural in recognition of reconciliation and provided her with a studio and artistic mentor to support her to produce the work. The outdoor mural now has a prominent place at the organisation’s Fitzroy headquarters.
After two years living at the Youth Foyer, studying art and launching her career, Christinaray moved into a rental property with friends. The Foyer, she says, gave her the “chance to just look myself, and be like, ‘I can be someone, I can do something’.’’
And, so she is.
Christinaray’s art career is steadily building, completing commissioned pieces, designing patterns for an international shoe brand and taking part in exhibitions.
The next step, she says, is to “keep getting my art out there”.