In Conversation With: Niah McLeod

The intricate details and patterns in Niah McLeod's artworks tell stories of her family history and heritage, allowing her to explore her native language through a visual medium. Based in Bangalow, New South Wales with her young family, Niah shares how her practice began as a personal meditative process and grew into exhibiting and selling her pieces to the public. We also chat about her thoughts on the culture surrounding contemporary art in Australia and the change she hopes to see in the future of the industry.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was Born on the south coast of Sydney and moved up north to a little town called Bangalow just outside of Byron Bay when I was 2 years old with my brother Zac and my mum. This is where I was lucky enough to grow up. I have now moved back here with my partner Blake and 2 kids, my eldest Matilda (4) and Darcy (2) they are the cheekiest but keep me very grounded haha.

What motivates you?
I love what I do, and that in itself is everything, My paintings also help me learn my native language. they are almost like my own personal flashcards. My kids motivate me, I love it when they turn around and stand next to a painting and exclaim “wow”.. that is really really special.

We read that painting began as a meditative practice for you, what did you find most challenging when beginning to show and sell your pieces, and how did you overcome this? 
I get quite socially anxious so when I did my first group show in Sydney I had to fake my confidence, just talking about my works, in general, I find really difficult.
I threw myself in the deep end with going straight into an exhibition, before I ever said to anyone I’m going to start painting or start selling paintings.. so I was exposed to hundreds of different opinions first hand. I think one of the biggest challenges though and still to this day is getting the comments like “But you don’t look aboriginal or how much aboriginal are you” and constantly feeling like I had to justify myself. Time helps a lot, but I definitely can’t say I have overcome this I’ve just found different ways about it. I also think that it so important to feel anxious and nervous and I guess in ways upset about things, these feelings keep you grounded and they mean you love what you are doing.. they also make the feeling of being happy so much more of a special feeling.


Most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given, as an artist?
“Tits to the wind and walk the earth like you belong to it” — my grandmother to my mum, and my mum to me! 

What is a piece of advice you’d give to fellow artists?
I think just to take that leap, artworks show your every bit of vulnerability and it's ok to be seen.

Along with being an award-winning artist, you’re a mother to Matilda and Darcy. We’ve seen on your Instagram that Matilda likes to join in on your works from time-to-time, how has having children stimulated or changed your works?
Matilda is a dream she will happily play by herself with barbies and drawings and I can get work done with her, she will never touch a wet painting and tell me how great they are every day.. Darcy on the other hand haha.. he will walk up to any and every wet painting he can find and go “WOWWW MUM” then swipe it with his hands .. or I’ll walk over and he has tried to dot next to mine which is so beautiful in so many ways but can be difficult to fix; It’s getting easier as they are both getting older.. My works haven’t changed too much, they just sometimes take a little longer to make.

Apart from your work, what do you like to do that connects you closer to your family history and heritage?
I have so much to learn, I think right now the best thing I can do is to educate myself and my children we are learning our native language. But to be honest.. my partner and I both work from home full time with both the kids 24/7. I’m usually just trying to get through my day without cracking half the time 

Is there anything you would change around the culture in regards to contemporary art in Australia?
In regards to contemporary indigenous art, I’d like to see tighter restrictions in place to stop corporations and entities exploiting indigenous artists that may not know their rights, if not restrictions, then support set up. Seeing companies put out ads where the artists gets “exposure and flights” in exchange for creating a piece of art that’s used on a football guernsey - which then goes on to sell thousands of copies and make that company a solid profit  -  these things have me wanting to see change. In regards to contemporary art right now, I’m really proud to see the amount of galleries who are focusing on emerging artists and celebrating contemporary art, it’s a great time to be around the industry!!

What are you reading at the moment?
Joshua Yeldhams “Surrender" I’m also jumping in-between language books and kids books.

Where would we find you in your free time?
My partner and I tag team with work and kiddies every few hours, so if I’m not at home I’m at parks, beaches, kids dance classes. 

What is one creative, and one personal goal you’ve set for yourself this year?
A creative goal this year was just to play with colour more, it seems to be my goal every year! I’m still waiting for it to happen, My personal goals for this year were to invest in a piece of artwork and to learn how to fly fish! I’ve managed to do one and I’m pretty happy with that.


Shop Niah's Edit

90s Silk Slip Dress Clay

90's Silk Slip Dress Clay

Straight Neck Cami Dark Clay

Straight Neck Cami Dark Clay