Yirrakurl: Aboriginal Procurement and the Art of Aboriginal Storytelling
It is an honour to share a small part of Deb Newenham-Coertse and Yirrakurl‘s journey, story and the art of Aboriginal storytelling. I had the privilege to meet Deb at a Intensive Crew charity event. Deb created and donated three amazing paintings that told the story of the Intensive Crew and the hard work and dedication of so many volunteers.
Deb, Managing Director of Yirrkurl, is an Indigenous artist of Noongar heritage.
Yirrakurl produces and licences distinctly Aboriginal art for commercial purposes.
With Deb and Yirrakurl, it is all about the story and the art of Aboriginal storytelling. It is all about getting to know her customers in order to tell their unique story through her paintings.
It confirms that visual stories are a powerful, direct method of conveying information and ideas and sharing cultural wisdom.
The YirraKurl story is one of resilience, determination, passion and courage.
Tell me more about YirraKurl and why you started Yirrakurl?
I started Yirrakurl when I was pregnant with my 5th child.
I used to walk the children to and from school and noticed gum nuts everywhere. I started collecting and painting them. I made the children collect the gum nuts with me.
Not having a car at that stage, I would walk miles with my painted art work; I walked from our suburb to the next one to be able to rent a car so I could sell my artwork. It took courage but I not only managed to cold call at shops but always managed to sell all of my artwork and be asked to bring back more. The range of artwork expanded as the demand grew.
What started out as a small venture, grew into a large business.
Eventually Yirrakurl partnered with an affiliate business and lost some of its authenticity as it became too commercial. The partnership expectations also made it harder to retain the YirraKurl brand.
For personal reasons, I had to quit Yirrakurl and went to work for the Western Australia government.
It was during this time that I was involved in a major car accident. The accident forced me to slow down. Recovery was hard and I ended up suffering from depression. People do not talk about depression. Talking to people about depression is hard too as most people shy away from hearing about depression. However, it is something we should keep on talking about.
It was hard to firstly find help when I was in a really dark place; it was hard to take back control of my life.
What saved me and helped me get out of that really dark place, was my painting and my art.
It is now approximately a year since I started to paint again and Yirrakurl is back in town. I am planning to hit the market with a boom and a few books.
How do you tell your customers’ story through Aboriginal storytelling?
Yirrakurl tells customers’ stories through creating a painting that tells the story but also providing the words for the story. For the Westpac painting, I took many hours to work through the Westpac’s Reconciliation Action Plan before starting the painting.
I like my customers to “dictate” to me as much as possible so I can deliver the story, they want their final artwork piece to interpret. Research is very important. It takes up a huge amount of time before I can even get the first stroke onto my canvas.
Therefore, every painting and every story is unique. The art lies in the Aboriginal storytelling.
I am a competent artist and proven to be reliable. I am very strict on quality control and making sure that all artwork is of the highest quality.
It is really important to build relationships. I find that by handling customer leads and sales myself, I can really get to know my customers. I “get into their heads” to understand their requirements and to tell their own, unique story.
My paintings and stories deliver value for money because it tells the story of my customer and its people.
Second round, how do you approach building your business?
I have two amazing mentors who give me invaluable advice.
The Many Rivers initiative gives me the opportunity to have a mentor. It is good to be able to talk to someone with a different view point and different ideas.
I also have a mentor from Westpac, who helps set my direction, have good connections and is able to assist me with making connections.
Networking is important. I cannot always get to networking events but I really found the Local Contracting Alliance showcase event of great value. In 2015, I even connected with a new customer as a result of attending the event.
One has to have a commercial understanding and outlook. Not only do I sell paintings in my business but I also provide licences to use my artwork on a commercial basis.
I still find it hard to work out what is the best way to price my work. Often people have limited budgets and I help where I can but I still do many more hours relative to the price I ask for each story and painting I create.
It is making sure that I find the right commercial opportunities where I am not only able to deliver value for money and accommodate a budget, but where I am truly able to sell at a price that reflects more than just hours or the cost of the materials.
Do you have any words of advice for other Indigenous businesses?
Along my journey, I have seen so many Indigenous artists fail because they do not believe in themselves. It is important to believe in yourself, be confident and be able to sell your artwork.
Believe you can do it and do not give your artwork away.
Networking is important. It is important to build relationships and improve communications. It also provides inspiration as you will meet many inspiring people along your journey. Work will not come to you, you have to go out and find work. Therefore networking is really important.
Pick your partners carefully. It can make your life easy or very hard. Therefore be very selective about who you choose to be your business partners.
I also support the Baronia women’s pre-release prison initiative where women in jail are being provided an opportunity to learn skills before release. I use their services where I need framing to be done for my paintings. It is a great initiative and I am glad that I can support it.
Where do you find your inspiration when things get tough?
I love ice-cream.
Painting saved my life.
Gardening grounds me.
It is the small things in life that keeps us going. It is the small things that get us up in the morning.
In conclusion: The Art of Aboriginal Storytelling
My gratitude to Deb for not only sharing her story but also allowing me a sneak preview of her painting created for Westpac Perth’s NAIDOC celebrations. It is worth seeing and meeting Deb and to learn more about the art of Aboriginal Storytelling. Deb will be showcasing the artwork on 6 July 2016 in Perth.
YirraKurl certainly knows the art of Aboriginal storytelling, not only in paint but through words. It is about connecting business with the stories that are integral to human nature.
It is what makes YirraKurl unique.
I look forward to the boom and the books.
A huge thank you to Deb for being allowed to use an image of one of her paintings for this article, aptly called “Protectors of our Culture”.
For more detail on Deb’s achievements (an impressive list!), YirraKurl’s core capabilities and products, please visit the YirraKurl website.
Contact Deb Newenham-Coertse on 0413 434 839 or Deb@Yirrakurl.com about future exhibitions or helping you create your business’ unique story.
Have a great day and make sure you tell your story!