Jackie paints a new path during COVID to achieve her dreams

Posted on:

For contemporary Indigenous artist Jackie Saunders, the year of COVID and physical distancing has turned out to be one of her most creative and productive yet.

Jackie, who describes herself as a ‘strong, proud Aboriginal woman’ and a role model to young Indigenous people for ‘achieving so much in my life’, is presenting her first solo art exhibition after winning the 2020 Dawn Slade-Faull Award.

The award aims to empower emerging South Australian artists with disability, providing financial support and encouragement to help them realise their potential in their chosen medium. 

It helped Jackie achieve one of her main life goals—a solo exhibition.

“I was really shocked and happy and excited, I felt really proud and really good,” said Jackie, 31, of Christie Downs, who lives with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and draws inspiration for her art from her Ngarrindjeri and Wirangu roots.

Jackie’s career as an artist is supported by the NDIS through training programs funded by her NDIS plan. She attends a Visual Arts program with registered provider Tutti Arts.  

Jackie also has support workers, a support coordinator, and a psychologist who help her with life skills, provide emotional and psychological support, and help her to go to the gym and community events.

“It makes me feel good, it’s helpful,” she said. “Life has improved because I’m getting the supports I need.”

Jackie Saunders painting

Jackie says FASD affects her in many ways, including learning, communication and memory difficulties, anxiety, social problems, and distressing mood swings.

“You go through everyday challenges like confusion,” she said. “I have an issue with my memory, I have a lot of mood swings, which people don’t really enjoy but that’s just me. I don’t like it either.” 

The self-described ‘daughter of a saltwater woman and a desert-dwelling man’, Jackie’s art is strongly connected to her family and culture.

She says it helps her to manage the challenges in her life.

“My art relaxes my mind, it just takes me to another world really, it gets me out of these bad thoughts,” said Jackie.

“It’s not only the disability that’s been tough. I’ve had to deal with a lot of grief and a lot of loss in my life. Also, I got brought up in foster care. Life hasn’t been easy for me. Being an Aboriginal has also been tough. In this big world there’s a lot of people who don’t give Aboriginals respect so I’ve had to deal with that too.”

Jackie’s solo exhibition, Salt & Sand, features several ‘big, bright, and bold’ new large-scale works. 

“During COVID I was just doodling in my journal and I liked it, so I thought I would try it on canvas and I developed a new style,” she said. “I really like it, it’s different from what I was doing before and it’s relaxing.”

In 2010, Jackie won the NAIDOC Young Person of the Year Award for achievements in the arts and being a positive role model for young Indigenous women. And her accomplishments don’t stop there.

Jackie is a singer, song-writer and performer with The Sisters of Invention, Australia’s first girl band whose members all live with disability. 

For now, Jackie has decided to take a break from the band to focus on her visual art. 

“One of my big dreams is to become a famous Indigenous artist and to teach Aboriginal kids art, so I just want to focus on my art for now and see where it leads me.

“I’m a role model to young Indigenous people and I want to keep that going and show them if you put your mind to it, you can achieve your dreams.”