Storytelling with Mariah Sweetman

Expressing ourselves through art can be a very soul-nourishing practice. Allowing for a therapeutic release of emotions and experiences in a creative and cathartic way, art offers an avenue for self-discovery and inner reflection, and it also provides a means to share our story. 

Through expressing our story and our inner realms in art, it allows us to communicate and connect with others on a profound level, while also touching the hearts of those who engage with our creations. 

We share a slow moment with contemporary Aboriginal artist and newly published author, Mariah Sweetman, to learn more about what encourages her to follow her artistic intuition to express and share her stories.

Mariah wears the Jasmine Maxi in Lavender and the Kyra Maxi in Coral.

How did your journey into contemporary Aboriginal art unfold?

I am a proud member of the Ugarapul tribe, and a fourth-generation artist. To this day I have my father’s art in my home. I have always been fascinated by the stories behind the intricate designs. I studied my Masters specialising in Indigenous Education, I felt compelled to share stories and give life to the messages in my mind and heart. As a school teacher, I am particularly passionate about teaching young people about true Australian history, including the difficult parts. My art serves as a tribute to my heritage, carrying prayers and hope.

What inspires you to create?

My Sweet Marra journey began with a compulsion to share stories and give life to the messages in my mind and heart. I did this through written work and visual art. I had to share a story and I had to give life to a message that is inside my head and my heart. As a school teacher I am particularly passionate about young people engaging with true Australian history. I use my art to honour my heritage, to share a prayer and a hope, and what an honour that people want to display my art in their homes and safe places!

Mariah wears the Kyra Maxi in Coral.

How is the concept of storytelling represented through your artwork?

My artwork always tells a story, often the same story will be told in a single collection. I won’t stop painting until that message is conveyed. I was very inspired by Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, she uses storytelling to beautifully convey her faith and her heritage - she speaks of sharing a gift. I studied some of her work in my Masters degree and it profoundly impacted me.

Is there a story behind the name Sweet Marra?

My name is Mariah. The meaning of Mariah, as a derivative of the Hebrew word ‘Mara’’ is ‘bitter’. I had a pastor pray over me, he said that God would turn my bitter waters sweet. This was aligned with an ancient Hebrew story, where Moses encountered bitter waters, and God used him to turn them sweet. This became a mantra in my life.

Less than two years later I was signing a marriage certificate and legally changing my name to “Mariah Sweetman” -  My name was literally changed to “Sweet”.

As I was starting my art journey, again the ancient Hebrew story of Moses was coming into my mind. The phrase from Deuteronomy 28 was fixed in my mind, “He will bless the work of your hands.”

The Ugarapul word for hand is Marra. I thought it was fitting as the Hebrew word for bitter is also Mara.

‘Sweet Marra’ is a representation of my Indigenous heritage, Hebrew heritage, christian faith, and a derivative of my legal name as well.

Top image, Mariah wears the Kyra Midi in White Gauze.

What do you love most about painting?

Being able to inspire young Indigenous people to share their stories through words and paint. 

Every time there is an order for my work, it is always a thrill and a humbling experience that someone wants my art in their safe place. 

What helps you feel empowered as a woman?

I feel empowered by telling stories. Drawing, painting, writing stories, writing poems, writing songs. I have become more empowered by sharing my creativity with the world, rather than keeping it contained to my art room. I would love to say that this has been intrinsic, but I owe it to my village of family and friends for encouraging and ceaselessly championing me to do this. Because of this I’ve felt the deepest empowerment of all.

We love seeing you create in Daughters of India designs, how do you feel wearing them?

I don’t think I’ve received as many compliments as when I wear my Daughters of India dresses! The designs are feminine, enchanting, colourful and absolutely magical. I love wearing clothes that are not only beautiful but also ethical and sustainable. 

Mariah wears the Kyra Mini in Sumac.

What’s on the horizon for Mariah of Sweet Marra?

I have the privilege of having a book that has just been released! I also have some collaborations in the works. I’ll have a new art release soon, and I’m working on some digital designs. I love learning and I’m always looking to up-skill myself.

You can find Mariah’s latest book release here.

By Ella Josephine Archer