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Change makers: talking with activist Aretha Brown

PHOTOGRAPHER – KATHERINE BOYLE
STYLIST – JADE LEUNG AT VIVIEN’S CREATIVE
HAIR AND MAKEUP – RAFFAELLA TOMAIUOLO

Making change.

It’s no secret that women are capable of amazing things. From protesting injustice to lifting up their communities, Aussie women have a long history of breaking down barriers.

This season, Converse is celebrating inspiring women via its All The Stories Are True campaign. It aims to uncover the stories of those who’ve carved their own path, redefining what it means to be a woman in 2019.

To get in the spirit, we chatted to activist Aretha Brown to find out what inspires her (while wearing her Chucks, of course).

converse.com.au

You’ve recently launched a podcast series. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I have a podcast called The Aretha Brown Show. It’s pretty much just giving a platform to people who haven’t really got voices in the mainstream media at the moment. It’s not people that are particularly doing anything extraordinary or too far out of reach. It’s just kids talking about politics, and just having opinions, really unabashedly, which I think is really important.

What first inspired you to become active and speak out?

I guess it was the fact that my grandma didn’t get to speak out. At the end of the day, the reason I do any of my activism is because my grandma didn’t get any of the opportunities I get today. She was from the wrong generation and she didn’t get to go to school in her language. And I have this real gift and passion just to really help the Indigenous community in that sense.

Can tell us a little bit about your art? You’ve recently been accepted into VCA. Do you find that activism and art go hand in hand?

Yeah, I think pretty much every kind of art is activism towards something or a structure, or somebody. It’s always going to question something. And that’s what my art intended to do. It’s the one space where I can be totally unbashful about how I feel and my views on everything – politics, womanhood, etc.

A while ago you appeared on an ABC documentary where you spoke about the advice you would give to your 12-year-old self. What knowledge would you share to other 12-year-old girls?

Don’t let the boys speak over you. I learnt that the hard way.

How do you think the education system is lacking when it comes to Indigenous history and what change would you like to see in your lifetime?

At the end of the day, my history’s your history and we have a shared Australian narrative. It just doesn’t make sense not to learn an equal share of Indigenous history. And history that extends before colonisation, because quite often that’s where it starts…

Our history extends far beyond that, there are 65,000 years of tradition, culture, language, religious edicts, ceremonies. And there’s so much to learn. You can’t understand our community or what’s hurting it if you don’t understand where we come from.

How would you like to see this change implemented?

I think that Indigenous studies should be, for the most part, a mandatory subject to do. And having more Indigenous teaching resources.

In terms of adults and young adults, are there any good resources you’d recommend for people who want to learn more about Indigenous history?

Sure, so there’s Helen Kuun’s work online, like creative scripts. And I recommend Koorie Heritage Trust in the city, whose mission is to give out resources related to local history. Most places will have a language centre, an Indigenous language centre, and they’re always giving out recent media.

I think just listening to as much Indigenous media and taking that in like any media… So more people want it, and so more of it has to be developed and made. So, keep asking, right? People will respond, there has to be a market first.

What women are you most inspired by?

Probably my grandma, I would say number one. Maya Angelou, obviously. And RuPaul.

Is there a particular Indigenous women’s organisation that’s doing great work?

The Margaret Tucker Indigenous Hostel in Melbourne. It’s a hostel for Indigenous girls aged between 16 to 18. And it’s mostly housing for mothers and young women who just need a place to crash.  They always have meals and they’re always looking for resources. So major respect for those guys. I think the Indigenous Literacy Foundation are also really cool. And AIME are also really fantastic.

Can you describe your fashion sense? Does your style reflect your art or activism, or do you just dress for comfort?

I feel like it’s constantly changing, it’s always in flux. Some days I just want it really simple because I’m always getting paint onto shit. I can get really dirty. And then some days I just want to look like Bianca Jagger. There’s no in between.

Sneakers or heels?

Sneakers.

Do you like to wear Converse? When?

I love to wear sneakers when I’m painting because they’re just so comfortable. My favourite are the platform One Stars with the big sole because I’m just so tiny.

This series is proudly brought to you by Converse

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