Niah Mcleod is a contemporary Indigenous artist from Byron Bay. Her work leads viewers on a meditative process through its intricate details and tells of stories passed down from her ancestors. We visited Niah's Bangalow home to chat about her creative process, self-care rituals and favourite local spots.
Niah wears the Mae Dress in Airlie Stripe
Hi Niah! Can you tell us about yourself and what it is you do?
I am from Monero, Wandandian, and Yuin decent. A mother of 2 cheeky little kids (3-year-old Matilda and 1-year-old Darcy) and I paint moments or stories that have been passed down.
You were born on the south coast of NSW, what was your experience like growing up here and has it had an influence on your work?
Yes! I was born on the south coast, a few hours south of Sydney, but moved when I was two years old with my little brother Zac and raised by my single mother at only 21… superwoman!
We were first in a woman’s refuge in Lismore then moved into an old cow shed that had been converted into a house in Bangalow…a few years later my mum bought a house up the road (in Bangalow) and this is where I grew up. I had an amazing upbringing here, the beaches, the schools—It really is a beautiful place to live! When I fell pregnant with my daughter I had to move back so she could grow up here too.
How would you describe your art practice?
To me, it’s very meditative. Sometimes I can look down, start painting and when I look up its been a few hours, but I feel like I’ve just blinked. Although these days with 2 little kiddies by my side it's definitely becoming more of a juggle! I really wouldn’t have it any other way though.
What themes and visual references do you seek to explore through your art-making?
Pure calmness. I want someone just to feel calm as if they can just stand there and take a minute to themselves to just feel...anything.
Your work leads viewers on a meditative process through its intricate details, earthy tones, and movement. How does your art-making affect your sense of self and do you see it as an act of meditation?
Firstly, thank you! Yes, it's very meditative for me, it’s also my time out, my way of connecting and belonging. I’m a pretty patient person, with a lot going on, and I think my paintings show a little of who I am.
Where do you see your practice moving towards? Are there any new techniques you’d like to try in the future?
I’m so humbled that I get to paint! With a 1-year-old and a 3-year old I’m very, very grateful that my profession allows me to also be a full-time mum and to take my passion anywhere. So if I can just keep painting and sharing stories and help with keeping a snippet of Aboriginal culture alive I feel like I’ve reached the stars. I would love to paint more with colours but for now, I’m just drawn to those earthy neutrals.
Niah wears the Ease Linen Short in Airlie Stripe.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
It's a little chaotic! My partner also works from home so we have found a little system that works. We wake up with the kids and he usually takes them straight out of the house for an hour and I do as much work as possible. Then when he comes back I take the kids out so he can work for the day and we tag team again at about 4 pm. He works in the film industry so his job never sleeps. We are both lucky that we can work from home so if meetings come up in the day then we can just keep tag-teaming. I paint on weekends and if I have deadlines I paint when my youngest has his day sleep.
What rituals do you practice in taking care of yourself?
I think I struggle in this department as most mums do. I meditate, I try and eat well and try to shower by myself (its the little things). I’m a homebody and I enjoy my own company, so time to myself is everything…even if its 10 minutes!
What do you love about your neighbourhood, where are your favourite places to go?
I love that this little town feels like home. I love the transition into Autumn. I love that in spring at night, the whole town smells like jasmine. I love that my closest friends from primary school are here with their kids, and watching them grow up is pretty special to me. My favourite places to go are Town Cafe for coffee and cake, Butcher/Baker for the best pastries and donuts, The Italian for lunch, the Bowlo for the afternoon so the kids can let loose and run off all their energy in the giant cage, Assembly Label for awesome clothing and also Heritage House near the park always has great things going on.
What are you reading, watching and listening to right now?
This is the question, where I feel like you really get a taste for exactly who I am! As I write this, Justin Bieber “Yummy” is playing. I’m currently watching “Grace and Frankie” and I have been reading Lucinda Riley's “Seven Sisters” books.
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