SA Life

Get CityMag in your inbox. Subscribe
April 5, 2022

A walk-through Mali Isabel’s multi-coloured, mottled utopia

The Arabana and Kokatha visual artist known for her vivid Adelaide Fringe 2022 dot painting poster will debut her first complete body of work for the upcoming exhibition ‘Rainbow Dreamz’ at Tandanya.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Pictures: Supplied

Despite Mali Isabel using Aboriginal Dreamtime symbols and storylines in her busy and bright dot-style paintings, exploring her First Nations identity through art emerged only recently in her career.

“For ages I didn’t feel confident doing Aboriginal art and I didn’t know what was right and what was wrong,” Mali, now a leading local artist practicing what she calls “contemporary Aboriginal art”, tells CityMag.


Rainbow Dreamz
15 April—18 June 2022
Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute
253 Grenfell St, Adelaide 5000

More info here.


“But just going to university and then educating myself, and then working with Carclew and being around so many elders and artists that I look up to, helped me get in-tune with my Aboriginal side.

“Now it’s completely different and I have the biggest circle of Aboriginal people around me.”

Locals in the postcode 5000 may have seen Mali’s work without realising — her frenetic rainbow A2 painting won the Adelaide Fringe 2022 poster competition.

This made her the first Indigenous Fringe poster artist, as well as earning her a $3000 prize and the opportunity to display her work as part of the southern hemisphere’s largest Fringe festival.

For the Adelaide Fringe, the emerging artist also painted live in a glass studio in Rundle Mall for 18 days, from 18 February—6 March.

Last year Mali was also one of Carclew’s eight resident artists who participated in the youth-focussed art centre’s 12-month Sharehouse program. Back then, she focussed on ceramics, photography and videography, with a mainstay in metallic and glittery dot paintings.

But Mali’s multi-year success has culminated in her debut exhibition called Rainbow Dreamz. Showing from 15 April—18 June at the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in the city, this is Mali’s first public showing of her visual art. And with 111 pieces, it’s massive.

“In the beginning, it was meant to be 75 artworks, and then it went up to 80 and then we were like, ‘let’s do 111’ because all of my prices are angel numbers,” Mali says.

Angel numbers, according to the auspiciously-titled author Doreen Virtue, is when angels communicate through a sequence of numbers. For example, if an iPhone user unlocks their device and the time is 1:11am, this is apparently a good omen.

Mali is all about good omens and makes art to deal with her own issues. “It’s a really good form of meditation, release, self-care and self-love,” she explains.

“So making all of my Rainbow Dreamz come to life, and turning all those negative experiences into positive ones.”

Mali Isabel in front of her Adelaide Fringe box


When we ask what negative experiences she’s dealing with, and how she uses art to explore these feelings, Mali references her series Equality within Australia. For this mini-collection she used multiple shades of one colour – red and orange – in rainbow patterns to explore her experiences of racism and discrimination as an Aboriginal woman.

“I use all those colours as colour therapy because the more I look at it and the more I use, the more I feel calm and connected and with the process,” she says.


New here? Sign up to receive the latest happenings from around our city, sent every Thursday afternoon.

The works for Rainbow Dreamz vary in size, from 10cm by 10cm to 2.1m by 2.1m. As Mali’s artistic career took off last year, she quit her job at Officeworks and moved into a new studio. This change pushed her to explore art in grander proportions.

“I love to do massive works,” she says.

“And over the past few days, I’ve been doing a mural on the Tandanya walls to mark the exhibition and just get the word out.

“But no matter what I do in my day, I always paint. I usually paint at night from probably five onwards – and if I start a painting, I usually finish it in the same sitting. I don’t really like to stop and start things because I find my flow and my technique is different.”

Mali wants her exhibition to deviate from the norm. Opening night will include live performances by First Nations artists, including electro-pop Katie Aspel and boom-bap trio Sonz of Serpent. Mali’s birthday is two days later, so she sees this as an opportunity to celebrate.

“I’ve been to so many exhibitions in my life, and it’s always you walk around, and it’s fancy and you drink wine and talk,” she says.

“I don’t want that. That’s not me. For the first two hours of the exhibition, it’s going to be an exhibition where people can do that and they can walk around, then we’ll have speeches.

“But then it’s a party. So much has been happening in my life, I have not had the time to stop and celebrate all the things that I’ve done.”

Much like her work, Mali expects opening night to be “absolutely crazy” in the best possible way.

Share —