Italian Trulli

Kayla Arabena-Byrnes

My name is Kayla Rae. Through my mother’s line, I’m a descendant of the Meriam Mer people in the Torres Strait, and I have Celtic connections through my father. After graduating as a medical doctor from the University of Queensland in 2017, I worked in Brisbane until moving to Denmark in January 2020. Today, I travel between the two countries, practising medicine and art.

When I was younger, I was always inspired by and loved creating art but never had the chance to focus solely on art as a practice. This changed when I was studying medicine. I found that creating 'artistic' study notes of basic human anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology was the best way for me to learn.

Historically, medical institutions have caused generational harm to First Nations people in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were rarely made to feel welcome – or have our ways of Knowing, Being and Doing represented – in health care settings. I believe by reclaiming Indigenous knowledge, stories and representation through medical-based art that we can find a way to bridge the divide between patient and provider, and learn about ourselves and our bodies in the process.

I became a doctor because some of my family members have chronic medical conditions. Today, I practise medicine and also have an art business called Within Creations, which focuses on anatomy-inspired images based on our stories, our internal structures and our barriers in health care.

In 2022, my Aunty Kerry Arabena approached me to create some artwork for Ilan Style. I was excited and daunted by the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and create art pieces that reflect my own family stories, and also the care-giving values of the Ilan Style brand. My sketches and motifs – and my major art piece, Three Realms – are now represented on the product packaging.

About the Art

Three Realms represents three world views; the oceans, the land and the skies.

The first realm is the ocean, Sea Country, which is culturally essential to Torres Strait Islander peoples. The dugong is our Arabena clan totem and my art depicts a mother dugong with her calf. The swirls emanating from her mouth represent ancient songs and language, as the mother sings these stories to her baby, gently handing them down to the next generation.

The second realm is the land, which emerges from the ocean through a network of subterranean cells. These cells represent the base nutrients that connect and sustain life on land; the mycorrhizal network, soil microbes and plant roots sharing nutrients and supporting the biodiversity of all life on earth. Above the soil surface we see the variety of plants and flowers that provide nutrition, medicine, clean air, beauty, aroma, ceremony, and also the Ilan Style product ingredients in nature’s garden – Gedub, in Meriam Mer language. The barred lines that disappear in the horizon represent the duality of the wet and dry seasons in the tropical Torres Strait Islands, the give and take of nature. Both are needed in perfect balance to sustain life.

Emerging from the horizon is the third realm, the sky. Here we see within the constellation a depiction of Tagai, a guiding figure in Torres Strait Islander lore, and a means of navigating our way home. To the right of Tagai is a constellation representative of family and Ancestors – who are always present.

Torres Strait Islander artwork

by Kayla Arabena-Byrnes, Within Creations 

Medium: Black watercolour paint on thick paper, Posca paint pens, gel pens, white acrylic paint and white watercolour paint