Shelley Ware with her designed South East Melbourne Indigenous jersey. (Image: @SEMelbPhoenix - Twitter)

Indigenous artist Shelley Ware is a proud Yankunyjatjara and Wirangu woman that has been involved in designing Indigenous uniforms for many sporting clubs. Ware was tasked with the special honour of designing the South East Melbourne Phoenix’s NBL23 Indigenous Round jersey, an opportunity she took with both hands.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Ware spoke about how long she’s been painting and designing, what inspired her to start, the creative process when starting to design and paint artwork, and how she expresses her work through art.

“I’ve loved art since I can remember, I’m actually an art-trained teacher. I’ve always been creative and enjoyed all forms of art, like three-dimensional, two-dimensional, anything I can get my hands on,” Ware said.

Whilst Ware loves doing all kinds of art and how it has had a huge influence on her life, she stated that print is her favourite medium.

“I’ve been drawing my whole life, taking lessons here and there. I teach lessons as an art teacher, but I love to learn from other people. It’s all about refining the craft as well.”

Having created several other Indigenous designs for many other professional sporting clubs, Ware shares her process once she’s been assigned to a piece.

“I am one of those people who will ask what they’re wanting, what their story is that they’re wanting and have a really good discussion about that. If they’re unsure and they give me the freedom, I’ll research the ends of the project, the people, the community, whomever I’m doing it [with] and maybe ask them a few questions,” she said.

“I’m one of those people that turns around in my head over and over and over again and then out of nowhere, the idea of the complete idea will just pop in my head, that’s generally what I’ll go with from the start. Things might adapt, but it generally stands pretty true to that first idea.”

Ware shared that whilst her style is simplistic, she details how important to her it is to focus on telling the story.

“If I’m telling a story because Aboriginal art is about telling a story. I always like that story to be really clear, so I’m not a busy artist, but I love the artwork of other busy artists as well,” she said.

“It’s just my preferred style, quite simple and so the story is quite clear. With other artwork that I do, it’s [a] free for all I explore that. I just love learning from other people with that kind of art.”

Ware shared the challenges she faces and the process that goes behind her artwork designs.

“It can sometimes be that it takes a little while for an idea to come into my head, but I’ve got ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), so I tend to be very creative and I often work under pressure quite well and a lot,” she said.

“There are a lot of projects I get and they’re like “can you do this in a week or can you do this in two weeks?

“It sort of suits my style of the way my brain works. Lucky for them, I can work under pressure and create something quite quickly. That seems to be the way the world we live in these days, people want things done yesterday.

“The organisation of it’s really important, but a lot of that organisation will go through my mind. Some people will draw 1000 sketches, I will literally do that within my own brain.

“Those sketches and the kind and all move around. I’m then able to have that clear picture and that clear picture comes out so I don’t need to do sketches as much, that sort of happens upstairs.”

Ware was presented with the opportunity to design the South East Melbourne Phoenix’s Indigenous jersey for NBL23, she spoke about how grateful she was for the chance to do so after doing artwork for other sporting teams such as the Carlton Football club.

“I’m always really grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the beauty of Aboriginal culture and it’s a really special thing to be asked to do,” she said.

“A lot of artists would love to do it and to be asked again, I’ve done the Carlton jumper as well. To then be asked to do this jumper, I’ve done a few other jumpers with some second-tier sports as well.

“It’s always an honour and I just love that it’s about celebrating the beauty within our culture and sharing our stories. Helping the wider community understand what the symbols mean and having that sense of pride and connection too. I’m always pretty happy about it.”

Designing the South East Melbourne Phoenix jersey, Ware shares her favourite part of the jersey design, including the connectedness of the stories on the front panel and other elements that are a highlight.

“I’ve got the circle where it’s talking about the community that is a huge part of the Phoenix basketball team. You’ve got the staff because we can’t have that big circle there with all the team all-around down the bottom unless those other components are strong and connected in story and culture, within the club’s culture,” she said.

“It’s all about getting those connections and those stories together, which I really love.

“When I was researching and reading all about [the] Phoenix and I’ve got a few friends that are heavily connected with the club. They feel the connection at the club. I really love that element of it on the front.

“I’m a big fan of the stars and the top of the shoulder. I put that on a lot of my tops because I believe their ancestors are always watching us between those two elements.”

Ware spoke about how the partnership between South East Melbourne come about.

“We’ve had a developing relationship through a friend of mine, who has a strong relationship with Neville Jetta. He does a lot of work with them and has a good connection with them,” she said.

“I had worked with Claire, who works at Phoenix and at the Carlton Football Club. The work that I’ve done on that jumper, she was obviously happy with that and I think she might have put my name up.

“I’ve done a few jumpers and a few things along the way, they’ve probably checked them out and thought, ‘she’ll do’.”

With many Indigenous players playing in the NBL, Ware shared her thoughts on how important it is for the NBL to continue initiatives such as Indigenous Round to help encourage more Indigenous players to get involved in the league’s pathways.

“I’d really love to see more Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander players there, there’s some work being done in creating pathways and creating culturally safe spaces within clubs, that’s a big push at the moment,” she said.

Ware shares that the future is bright for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and more is happening behind the scenes to make it happen. She also explained why rounds like the Indigenous Round are an important part of the calendar.

“It’s really important that we keep having Indigenous Round and celebrating that beauty. There are too many times where we’re looking at the hard stories and they’re important too, but to take those moments to look at, wonder and share, it’s pretty special,” she said.

“I look forward to the day. Like with the Carlton Football Club, I’ve just finished designing their training tops, which they will wear all year, every day and whenever they run out for a game they will have an Indigenous story of the club incorporated within the jumper.

“That would be nice to see elements in the NBL, training tops that are just a part of their everyday training, not just this once a year. We’ve always got to start somewhere and I’m really excited that they’re on their journey. I look forward to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history being a big part of their every day.

“It’s all about feeling welcome and belonging and feeling culturally safe. There are too many spaces in Australia that aren’t culturally safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, so they don’t put themselves in there.

“I’m saying generally in a lot of spaces, people are becoming more aware of what it means to make a culturally safe space, listening to each other, including community and elders, finding individual stories about what the individual person needs in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.

“It’s exciting that people are wanting to do that, it makes me feel really hopeful for the future for NBL and getting to see some really fantastic Aboriginal players out there.”

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Ware shared what inspired her to become an artist while also explaining the details of what goes into creating and designing a piece of artwork and how much time and effort you need to put into a piece.

“I’m really inspired and literally in everything that I do is for our next generations. Everything I do within this space is about encouraging the wider community to connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture and to own it because we have this shared history and to be really proud of it,” she said.

“I feel connected and that’s what’s gonna change this country and the connection to everyone being proud. That’s what really drives me as the next generation and making sure that there’s a safe space for them to live, love, and be exactly who they want to be.

Ware shared that patience is behind how much time goes into a piece of artwork and she couldn’t get pieces done without help from her husband who is a graphic artist as well.

“I draw the designs; I like to draw everything and then he will transfer over to the computer. It’s about me trying to express to him exactly where I want things to go,” she said.

“It gets very clear in my mind what I want and once that happens, it’s a matter of working as my husband, Steven, who’s helped me on every single jumper, he’s fantastic. I did have an amazing graphic artist that helped us at [the] Phoenix to tidy up the colours and get them right.

“It’s not just one person, there’s a lot of people involved in the graphic artists at Phoenix. He was fantastic too.”

Ware shared what art means to her.

“I enjoy sharing it with other people. It brings me joy. I always know I’m in trouble when I haven’t had time to do something creative,” she said.

“When I was given this opportunity, it was a real joy to bring that creativity back into my world.”

Ware said she gets her inspiration from lots of people, including her community at home, who gives guidance on what things mean. She shares that she still speaks to them regularly and that they have a heavy influence on her work.

“Annie Kerr, she’s such an inspiration and she always helps me with my designs and makes sure that I have them cleared, they are the correct protocol and she’s very kind and helpful. I always feel really safe from her guidance,” Ware explained.

“Inspiration wise has always been my father. He was a Warrigoo man, who was an initiated elder and he was very strong in culture and passing it onto us. I’ve always had someone to look up to and be like, he was my superhero.

“Other than that, I genuinely look at people as equals. I’m not one of those people who I’m genuinely happy that they’re doing something wonderful, but I’m not a person to idolise as such.

“Everyone has a gift or has something to give and whatever that is, I take from people their generosity and their spirit and I give back my generosity and spirit to make sure that we’ve had an equal exchange at the same time.”

Lastly, Ware shared her words of wisdom to those wanting to be involved in painting and designing as well as how the general public can support artists like herself and their work.

“Just do it. Everyone should be expressing their creativity in some way. There are so many different ways to do it and there are so many different classes that you can do online. If you’ve got a teacher that’s guiding you through it, you’ll be amazing at what you can create,” she said.

“With Aboriginal artists, there are so many to follow. Instagram is a fantastic way to do that, there are hashtags. If you can support black businesses, it’s an important step in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

“Make sure you go directly to the artists or go to a reputable shop and make it happen.”

Watch our full interview with Shelley Ware below:

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