"Each artwork I leave in a different space, different culture, different time, is an expression of the things that concern me, but more importantly, a celebration of the things that give me hope."
Let’s start with a bit about yourself and your creative journey.
My name is Emily Devers, otherwise known as MIMI. I'm a compulsive maker, and at any given time have my fingers in many pies (metaphorical and actual).
I've always been practising art, however my definition of art has changed drastically over the years as I've slowly grown into my own creative skin. My partner and I run a creative studio out of Red Hill, Brisbane - Frank & Mimi Studio - which absorbs most of my attention. Outside of this I like to spend as much time as possible using my hands, learning, sharing, exploring my natural environment and soaking up time with those I hold close.
One thing I’ve really admired about your work and projects, such as Frank & Mimi and Knack Merchant, is how you really advocate reviving artisanal crafts in your community. I love this because it really speaks to creative expression as something that permeates so many different aspects of our everyday lives, both personally and collectively. What’s your take on the relationship between creativity and healthy communities?
Whoah, many thanks! Our studio originally began out of a reaction to the modern sign industry, and the intense motivation to offer a more heartfelt and sustainable alternative. Traditional signwriting is one of many crafts that had been just about completely swallowed by digital technology. With the demand for cheap services and disposable visual outcomes, digitally printed design comes at an unforgivable environmental cost. For every sign and digital artwork applied, almost three times as much material/bi-product waste ends up in landfill. By honing hand-painted signwriting techniques through our studio, we're able to take a more ethical approach to signwriting and large scale artworks that produces far less waste, while also hopefully making a timeless, respectful mark on our environment.
In contrast to older understandings of sign painting, at our Studio we believe it is our work that creates the market, not the market that creates our work. That’s definitely the “artist” in me coming out at work, and I wouldn't have it any other way. From the moment we started brainstorming Frank & Mimi in our West End share house, our Studio brand has remained malleable, and its development can be traced - just as an arts practice can. This was a conscious choice - from those early stages through to now, we’ve been engaging in projects that we align ourselves with ethically, consciously crafting the kind of work that we want to be known for.
The same goes for Knack Merchant. Through Knack Merchant, Brisbane folk are invited to share skills on a Sunday once a month in a welcome, communal space where creativity is the hero and economy is irrelevant. After teaching for a few years and exploring self-directed learning, I reached a place where I wholeheartedly believed everyone should feel welcome to take part in learning new skills, with the confidence to share theirs in the future, as we've all got something to give.
Each Knack Merchant workshop asks for suggested donations to cover the cost of shared materials, and what's left over goes back into the project to fund workshops such as natural indigo dying, wholefood baking, natural fibre weaving, pickling and flower arranging to name a few! These monthly workshops operate on the premise that if you are willing to contribute to the space and the project, then you can in turn enjoy other's offerings every month. It's fed my little creative belly-fire for over a year, and at the moment is taking a hiatus until I can establish a clearer future for the project.
You’ve been overseas a bit last year doing public art projects in Morocco and Hawaii. Tell me about what you were creating there and what you’ve brought home from the experience of working within the context of different cultures.
As long as I could remember, I've always wanted to go to Morocco. My mother went there when she was around my age, and in some roundabout way of wanting to get to know myself better, this lead me to land right in the hazy, viscous midday Casablanca heat in July, 2016.
I began my journey in Morocco during the last few days of Ramadan, and the energy was so fierce you could feel its effect at every level of your being. I spent 5 weeks in total over there, and 18 days at a studio residency in a small town called Sefrou, just outside of Fez. Sefrou is the sweet little sister of Fez. I say sister because it has a softness about it - the medina (market place) with its gentle bursts of lilac and pink, and the numerous sacred gathering spaces for women.
The Artist-in-Residency program is open to anyone with a vision to find pathways between their culture and Moroccan way of life, and create something meaningful in this rural community. I was busting to formulate some cross cultural exchange and dialogue through my art, and expand on ideas that had been percolating for a while. After a successful project proposal, I planned my Morocco trip to fill in the time and space around this studio in Sefrou.
In terms of the artwork itself, it was the hardest and most rewarding painting adventure I've ever been on. It had been 20 days since I landed in Morocco... and after many false starts, infinite language barriers, disappointments and unexpected obstacles I finally put my brush on a wall. Instead of the collection of artworks I had planned, I had to dip into the current of Moroccan life and accept that even one public artwork was going to be a huge achievement.
I wanted to paint something in Sefrou that acknowledged that Morocco is on the brink of a profound water crisis. I had seen it in varying degrees as I wandered through the medina and witnessed trash overflowing the river, people gathering and bathing communally in contaminated water and 6 visiting artists (including myself) becoming ill in succession since arriving there. The Berber Water Sellers traditionally fetch water and dispense it to visitors in tiny cupfuls from a goatskin bladder, ringing their bell to communicate their approach. Today, water sellers make more money from foreigners who pay to photograph them than from peddling water - a strong visual statement about the role tourism currently plays in Morocco, and the worrying state of existing water systems. I painted a Berber water seller with an empty cup, even though the waterfall flows right next to him.
In strong contrast to this experience, in October of 2016, Rick and I were invited to take part in a public art activation by Hawaiian organisation Temple Children - who aim to strengthen and bridge communities by stimulating conversation, collaboration and positive change. With each project they connect and support like-minded creatives, fostering innovation in visual arts, food sustainability, and adventure.
When we landed in Hawaii we stepped out into the all-encompassing tropical air, and settled into the next 10 days on the big island. This involved conversations with the other artists and community members, cultural immersion adventures and eating every meal together - produced lovingly by Temple Children facilitator Miya using local big island foods.
The artwork we left Hilo with was inspired by our hands-on immersion into the Waipiʻo Valley, where we worked collectively with the Temple Children crew to restore a Taro patch (loʻi) for not-for-profit landcare collective Pōhāhā I Ka Lani. I believe it is our responsibility to regenerate what we take, allowing the earth to heal from human touch. This particular artwork celebrated the indigenous papaya (kapoho solo), passionfruit (liliko'i), taro (kalo) and turmeric flower (ʻōlena), with the phrase 'Land of Plenty' layered over imagery of these powerful big island foods. The type was illustrated using topographic linework directly referencing the mountain range behind us - Mauna Kea, framing negative space in which conversations about sustainable food production can continue.
Each artwork I leave in a different space, different culture, different time, is an expression of the things that concern me, but more importantly, a celebration of the things that give me hope.
Who and what are your muses and why?
This is such a tricky question for me, as I feel as if I'm being "mused" by people and my environment most waking moments. The natural world that surrounds me is perhaps my biggest muse - the cycles of the moon, the forest and the ocean. But I also get really dizzy and excited about the things that are unspoken and unseen. Time, invisible networks, feelings of attachment and our ability as humans to place significance on just about every object.
Generally I'm inspired by any creative person approaching their practice with focus, purpose and a great love for our planet.
What advice can you give to budding creatives?
I always feel like it's painfully important for young creatives to know that they possess the ability to curate their output and determine their own path. For some reason, universities seem to train a mindset into the psyche of young artists that they must take on everything that comes their way in order to be noticed. Not true. In fact, I strongly believe it's what you say 'no' to that helps to shape your creative character and define your future path. I truly wish someone had told me that at the beginning of uni!
Photograph by Hannah Roche for BNE GIRLS.
Emily Devers (MIMI) is an accomplished multidisciplinary fine artist who develops unique and timeless concepts through her public work, with a dual focus on community engagement and global conversation. Emily holds a Bachelor of Fine Art, and has since participated in many exhibitions as a practising artist, facilitated community workshops, contributed to industry conversations and painted across the globe. Living sustainably through her creative practices, she creates high impact art with low impact materials - generating space in her artworks for pertinent discussions around the future of our planet and our roles as creatives.
Check out more of Emily's work at the Frank & Mimi Studio, follow her on instagram, and have a peek at Knack Merchant.
+ + THE MUSE SPOKE is a mini-interview series with inspiring humans that embody soulful creative self-expression. + +