When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman Nina Fitzgerald moved to Melbourne from Darwin when she was 18, she was shocked to discover how little people in the cities knew about First Nations culture.
"I think it's still pretty clear that there's still such a lack of understanding and empathy and knowledge," she tells Refinery29 Australia.
Fitzgerald had always loved working in creative spaces, so when she returned to Darwin, she came up with the idea to open an Indigenous art gallery in an iconic 1970s era laundromat on Larrakia Land, along with her co-founder Laura Shellie. Laundry Gallery's tagline is 'Old Stories, New Spin' and the vision behind the gallery is to make Indigenous art accessible to younger generations and share the stories behind the artworks in the artist's own words.
"I love the way that arts connect people," she explains. "The gallery was born from this motivation to keep sharing those stories and bring people along on that journey. Most Australians are never going to get to a remote community and some people don't have a lot of engagement with Indigenous Australia, and I understand that, but I think if the stories can be shared more widely there's going to some kind of empathy and understanding formed."
It was important to Nina and Laura that young people would actually be able to afford the art that's on display in the gallery, so the price point at Laundry Gallery starts at $250, with the bigger artworks costing around $3000. You can also learn about the artworks and purchase them through the Laundry Gallery website.
"I noticed that younger people were especially interested in this space and wanting to learn more," Fitzgerald says. "And if the arts are a way to help bridge those gaps and help share those stories, it was really important to profile and showcase art that's accessible."
Fitzgerald also wanted to show people the fun and vibrancy of Indigenous art, and encourage non-First Nations Australians to be curious about Indigenous culture and to learn more about it.
"I think it's world that people are a little bit scared to step into or get an understanding of because it's a bit taboo and they're worried they're going to say the wrong thing," she says. "And I always say to people, we're just humans and it's about having a conversation and approaching that conversation with love and openness. Aboriginal people and artists love sharing their stories, they love people engaging with their life and their world."
Another aim of Laundry Gallery is to show people the fun-loving and humorous side of Indigenous communities and First Nations art. The walls of the gallery are painted in bright colours and the stories behind the art are told in a unique and fun way,
"People laugh, there's humour, it's hilarious," Fitzgerald explains. "There's a lot of hilarity in communities and that's never shown. We get an artist to come and talk and it's freeform and they make jokes. And it's authentic and low-key in that sense."
After a hugely successful first year of Laundry Gallery, the team are hosting their first pop-up shop in Fitzroy, Melbourne/Naarm in October and November. The pop up is being held in conjunction with Indigenous fashion label House of Darwin under the name NT General Store. They will be showcasing different exhibitions and artists during the pop up, so Fitzgerald recommends that Naarm locals pop by a few times throughout the month.
"It'll be this ever evolving space which is kind of fun and we'll keep people up to date on both of our Instagrams about what's going on in the space and what's happening," Fitzgerald says.
If you're not in Melbourne, or not in a position to purchase art at the moment, you can help support the gallery and Indigenous artists by reading the stories on the website and sharing those stories on your social media accounts.
"One of our biggest aims is the sharing of stories and storytelling, so any way people can help share those stories helps, whether it's by sharing posts through social media, or just talking about it, or reaching out to us," Fitzgerald says.
You can find the Laundry Gallery Naarm pop-up at 28 Johnston Street, Fitzroy. It opens on Friday, October 28 and will run until the end of November. You can find out more on Laundry Gallery's Instagram page.