Women in Colour
Tamara Armstrong’s Women in Colour series features a number of fierce portraits that merge themes of cultural diversity and intersectional feminism. Female empowerment and her love of bold fashion are at the core of what she celebrates in every woman she paints. In between workshops and creating masterpieces, HER was thrilled to talk to Tamara about all things representing her art and the driving factors behind the Women in Colour series.
A colourful journey
For many women, art is used to express who they are, what they stand for and what they want to voice. Tamara Armstrong is a Samoan, Australian artist who has been using art as HER creative outlet ever since she can remember. The art room, music room, and any space that encouraged creativity was where you would find her.
After leaving school, Tamara knew that she always wanted to do something in the art world, but her parents were worried that being an artist wouldn’t pay the bills and told her to consider teaching. So, she did, and when she entered her first art class as a student teacher in 2002, she knew that she was in the right career. From here, she taught Visual Art at high school for 12 years before she finally declared herself a full-time professional artist.
Tamara now resides in the picturesque Tamborine Mountain, Queensland where she lives with her husband and young daughter. In between creating she also finds time to run workshops as a way of sharing her passion of art with others.
“When I had my art studio built in our backyard, I just felt so guilty that it was all mine. I wanted to share it with others and so I started very occasionally offering full day art workshops in my studio to help others feel their creativity rejuvenated - not just by the art, but also by the calming vibes of the mountain,” she explains.
Tamara grew up around the south-east corner of Queensland her entire life and admits she was completely removed from most of her Samoan family. Through art she has been able to reconnect and find clarity with who she is.
“I've certainly been craving more knowledge and a deeper connection to my cultural roots since hitting my late twenties. My aunties pointed out to me that it's never too late to reconnect with your inner-Pacifica woman and I've realised that my identity is so fluid and so personal to my lived experience,” she shares.
“This realisation and thirst for culture has played out through my art and often without me noticing. My art is constantly attempting to reveal my true self, I finally feel like I'm getting more aligned with that inner self now and I'm excited to see where it takes my art and where my art takes me. It keeps me hopeful and grateful every day.”
The 36-year-old’s artistic style is best described as colourful, bold and joyful. And Tamara acknowledges that she finds inspiration through brave women who stand up for themselves in a range of different ways.
“There are so many individual women that inspire me personally and I've painted many of them in my Women of Colour portrait series, but then I'm also inspired by the women who've surrounded me my entire life and always told me I could do anything I wanted if I set my mind to it,” she says.
Women with substance
The Women in Colour series is Tamara’s career highlight to date. She has placed the spotlight on inspiring women of colour through twelve vibrant portraits that she worked on for two years.
It all started when she painted a portrait of, Yassmin Abdel-Magried, her first attempt at Australia’s most coveted Art prize, the Archibald Prize (an award for the Best Portrait in Australia). Being able to meet someone she truly admired was an addictive experience for her. She then dreamt up the series of portraits and the title Women of Colour kept popping into her head.
“I'm a woman of colour and I really crave learning more about fellow women of colour here in Australia. Being able to connect with their experience of growing up here without seeing many faces in mainstream media that looked like us. I wanted to spotlight these incredible people with my love language that is ART!”
“Women with substance,” is a phrase that Tamara uses to describe the wahine in her series. To her, this means women who are pursuing a creative passion that is benefitting themselves while inspiring others in the process.
“While the women each have beautiful exteriors, I didn't want them to just look like pretty pictures, I wanted that substance to show through and leave the viewers wanting to know more about their stories. For so long, women have been portrayed by male artists in a way that very much depicts the male gaze, this series had to show a depth of female empowerment and that's something I've always aimed to achieve whether I'm painting a fictional woman or a real woman of substance,” she explains.
The response from the series has been overwhelming. Her last painting in the series is a self-portrait that she says captures a growth and new found inner strength.
“Based on what I've been told, many women are loving how strong and fierce the women look, but also they can see my admiration and love for each woman in the way I've painted them. There's been a lot of love for the vibrancy of colour and the fact that each woman's face reflects a multitude of colour. I've been told they feel really joyful and uplifting when viewed collectively at the gallery.”
After the success of her Women in Colour exhibition, Tamara is now on a journey to learn more about ‘Custodians,’ a word that has been on repeat in her head after a trip to Stradbroke Island. The creative women on the island are in many ways custodians of the island. Constantly sharing their skills and keeping old practices alive and well.
“At this point, I'm happy to just spend more time over at Minjerribah (which is the indigenous name of the island) to soak up more magic and meet and learn more about these salt water sisters.”
And for her,there is no shortage of inspiring Women of Colour whose voices should be heard. Just take a look on social media, she says. There are many more women she has in mind to paint that the list is so long and she won’t be stopping anytime soon.
“It’s not hard to find diverse voices and lived experiences thanks to social media. We are really living in a time of great diversity and greater opportunities to make deeper and meaningful connections thanks to the various artistic expressions that are getting put out there into the world. I hope that my series reminds people or perhaps informs them of this fact. Turn off your televisions and throw away your newspapers - if you want to learn about some really incredible women of substance, doing really incredible things for themselves and others, then check out your local gig guides, theatres, art galleries, fashion shows, charities, NFPs or even just start by searching on Instagram.”
Here is a list of the inspirational women that Tamara had painted in the series:
1. Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a mechanical engineer, author, social advocate and all round fierce warrior woman!
2. Maryann Talia Pau artist, weaver and social advocate and founder of the 'One Million Stars to end Violence' project.
3. Michelle Law is a Brisbane based writer and playwright and she has a fantastic list of stage plays and screenplays to her name.
4. Waveney Yasso is a singer, song writer and story teller who devotes everything to her passion for music and young people.
5. Kim Leutwyler (one of my Colourful Women of Substance) is a fellow painter and lover of bright colour as well as being a highly celebrated portrait artist who is a total champion for women in the arts and members and allies of the LGBQTI community
6. Ellen Stapleton is a Brisbane-based painter and fellow colour lover. Her work is insanely colourful and largely inspired by her studies in Tibetan Buddhism.
7. Amrita Hepi is a choreographer and dance activist and while she looks like a cute little doll, she's totally badass!
8. Aretha Stewart Brown is a model and the Prime Minister of the Youth Indigenous Parliament.
9. Isata and Mariama Thomas are sisters and fashion designers and are brand ambassadors for the Brisbane label 'Diva Headwraps' founded by Charmaine Idris another incredible woman of colour and substance.
10. The scarf designs of Letitia Green Design (another fellow colour loving woman of substance) are modelled by model Gerlie Siki.
11. The bold and patterned designs of my fave Aussie label 'Mister Zimi' are modelled by model and Law student Stephanie Cherry.
12. And my self-portrait depicts me wearing a 'Manessah Official' outfit and woven earrings by Maryann Talia Pau.
Follow Tamara on Instagram: @tamara_armstrong_art
Thank you, Tamara, for sharing your creative journey with HER. You bring so much colour and vibrancy to our world. I am inspired with how you have honoured women and their stories. Continue painting, creating and inspiring us all xxxx