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“Art is life” for Yorta Yorta artist Tammy-Lee Atkinson

By Charmayne Allison

For Yorta Yorta woman Tammy-Lee Atkinson, art is life.

And now, her stunning artwork is featured in a life-giving space in downtown Mooroopna.

Her latest mural, Welcome, depicts a meeting place at the centre of a river, with individual people gathered along its edge.

It is featured on one of the main walls in the Point of Difference (POD) Studio, a new space aiming to empower local people of colour and culture, particularly the youth.

“As soon as you walk in, the mural welcomes you,” Tammy-Lee said.

On a nearby patch of wall, there's also a beautiful piece from Tammy's nine-year-old nephew, George-Marbi Nicholson.

“I just started by painting my hands black and yellow and red,” George said.

“I had fun doing it.”

Tammy's nine-year-old nephew, George-Marbi Nicholson with his artwork.

It's clear artistic flair runs in the blood.

Tammy-Lee grew up surrounded by creativity, her nan making feather flowers and moccasins and her mother more often than not found with a paintbrush in hand.

“I've always drawn and painted. Art was somewhere I could go and relax,” Tammy-Lee said.

Born in Echuca in 1988, Tammy-Lee lived in Cummeragunja, Barmah and Kerang before settling in Mooroopna at 13.

After graduating from Mooroopna Secondary College, she headed to the Academy of Sport, Health and Education (ASHE) where she studied for two years before working as a student support officer.

At a crossroads two years later, Tammy-Lee chose to leave sport to focus on her other passion - art - instead, studying visual arts at Deakin University for three years.

It was at that time, in 2015, Tammy-Lee walked into Kaiela Arts in Shepparton.

And she "hasn't left since".

“For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, Kaiela Arts is a second home, a safe haven, a place to have a yarn over a cup of tea,” she said.

Initially volunteering, Tammy-Lee is now the project co-ordinator at the art gallery.

She has been a major mover and shaker behind Phoenix, a program funded by Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative which aims to empower women touched by family violence.

“We saw the need for art therapy - because art can change your mood, environment, how you think and see. It can change your life,” Tammy-Lee said.

“I'm passionate about supporting women going through these experiences.

“I've always been surrounded by women, and I've seen firsthand what a woman can do when she is empowered.”

Tammy-Lee said art had been empowering for her as well.

“It's given me more courage and the ability to express myself,” she said.

“If I'm having a bad day, all I have to do is grab a piece of paper and a pencil and sketch it out.”

Even Tammy-Lee finds her art style difficult to describe.

“I'd say it's traditional with a contemporary twist,” she said.

But painting from the heart - and inspired by country and family - it's no wonder her work is turning heads in the art world.

Now she has shared that artwork with the POD Studio.

A space Tammy-Lee wishes she'd had growing up.

“There are not many places you can go to freely express yourself and share a yarn,” she said.

“Now we have the POD Studio and Kaiela Arts. I wish I'd had places like these to come after school, but I'm so glad local young people have them now.”

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