Meet Bri Pengarte Apma Hayes: the Arrernte artist behind the Melbourne Vixens’ 2022 First Nations dress

1 month ago

When the Melbourne Vixens’ 2022 First Nations dress was unveiled this week, fans were unanimously excited by the design.

Just a few of the comments across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram read:

“This one is the best so far.”

“It's amazing. They definitely get better every year.”

“Absolutely exquisite.”

“This is a GORGEOUS work of art.”

“Standing ovation…This design is beyond stunning.”

The playing group was equally impressed.

“We can’t wait to put this dress on and we want to learn more and hopefully inspire more First Nations people to play our sport. We hope to make [Bri] proud on the weekend,” said Vixens co-captain Kate Moloney.

The person behind the incredible dress design representing togetherness, fearlessness, and resilience is Bri Pengarte Apma Hayes — a young Arrernte artist living on Wathaurong land.

Bri was selected to design the 2022 dress for the Suncorp Super Netball First Nations Round following an artist callout in August. She has previously created numerous paintings and worked with clients such as the Royal Australian Air Force Laverton base, but the Melbourne Vixens First Nations dress is her most significant project to date.

Represented in Bri’s artwork for First Nations Round are three significant influences: dot art specific to her country in Alice Springs; the Melbourne Vixens uniform colours; and painting styles specific to Victoria.

“I did use a little bit of cross hatching — which is specific to the Victorian people – and I have had permission given to me by Elders here in Geelong to be using some of the Victorian-style artwork,” Bri said. “It's so important to receive permission from an Elder and a Traditional Owner to do an art style from Victoria because this isn't my country. Even though I've grown up on Wathaurong country my whole life, I'm not Wathaurong, so it's not right for me to be doing that style of art that is not personal to me. That's why I do dot art — because my family's from Alice Springs.”

Bri grew up watching her father dot paint and began practising this herself from 15 years of age. “I've always been very connected to my culture and am very strong in my cultural identity, especially with knowing my family's story and the history of Australia.”

The artist normally paints with acrylic on canvas, although working with the Vixens’ colours inspired Bri’s first foray into digital artwork. “When we paint with certain colours, they often hold meaning; so blue can represent water or the sky, and oranges and browns represent the earth,” she explained. “So using colours like pink was hard, but that represents the players and that represents the staff and the Melbourne Vixens community, so it was also about being able to represent them.”

As well as being printed on the players’ dresses, an interpretation of Bri’s artwork is also on the PUMA x First Nations tee available to purchase in two colours. All proceeds from the tees go to supporting Netball Victoria’s First Nations pathways and programs.

“Netball can and should be putting back into the community, especially with the profits of a First Nations round,” said Bri of the First Nations tee initiative. “To be able to put that back into pathways for young Indigenous people to come through, to do the Vixens programs, or just be involved, is such an important thing.”

Bri says having a dedicated First Nations SSN round is important for recognising Indigenous athletes; to signify the sport as a safe space for all; and for non-Indigenous people to learn more about Indigenous cultures.

“I think sport is such a great way to start these conversations…To be able to have a First Nations Round really shows any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander teammates you might have that you have their back and you're willing and open to learn about their culture,” she said. “Our culture has been alive for so many years — we’re the oldest living culture in the world — and to be able to celebrate that among your teammates is so special.”

The artist was recently involved in these discussions when presenting the First Nations dresses to the Vixens players, and she hopes the official SSN round will create further awareness.

“I think they were very appreciative of the meaning behind the dress and having the opportunity to have a young Aboriginal person come in and talk about different cultural aspects and ask some questions,” Bri said. “It’s really good, because they probably don't always get the opportunity to talk to someone about things like that, and that’s why the First Nations round is important.”

The Vixens will proudly wear the First Nations dress featuring Bri’s artwork this Sunday 29 May for their first home game during an SSN First Nations Round since 2019. Bri will be there on the day and looks forward to the players proudly sporting her stunning design. “It'll be pretty exciting to see them in action on the court wearing my dresses.”

Visit Bri Pengarte Apma Hayes’ Instagram or Facebook page to learn more about her art.


Written by: Amelia Barnes

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