“I think the female experience differs greatly depending on where you're from” — artist Sarana Haeata’s beautiful life

by Gemma Dawkins
Monday 11 September 2023

Creativity comes quite easily to artist Sarana Haeata. It’s something she describes as her “natural state of being,” which goes some way to explaining how she has managed to maintain such a prolific art practice alongside raising four children. From ceramics to drawing, painting and printing, she’s not hemmed in by medium or subject matter. Instead, her art seems to evolve as she does. “I grew up in a creative family and went to a very creative school,” she tells M-POWER, “so it's something that is deeply instilled in me and which I hope is instilled in my own daughters. As a society I think the scales are forever tipped towards actions and careers that are perceived as stable, safe and economically wise. And for some reason creativity is viewed as the antithesis of this, which is bonkers. Creative thinking is what drives progress, however as a society we've lived so long with the story that creativity is 'unstable' and therefore a luxury to be enjoyed 'on the side'. Many people are scared of creativity and think they are not capable of it, which is pretty heartbreaking.”

At its core, all of Sarana’s work is about one thing: storytelling. “Whether it's a story of my own emotional state or a story that I've found is shared amongst many, usually I'm trying to capture a shared experience,” she says. The female form is a recurring feature in much of her work, reflecting Sarana’s experience not only of womanhood but of motherhood, too. “I have found that when we give voice to these experiences, what we perceive as isolating or unimportant experiences are actually a unifying shared story that all mothers are familiar with in some capacity. In the same way, I question my own identity as a woman. What is the identity that is innate to me, versus the identity that society constructs for us?”

What is the identity that is innate to me, versus the identity that society constructs for us?

- Sarana Haeata

In one series, Sarana depicts figures seemingly diving, dancing and reclining. “These ladies came about as a way of processing my own need for physical and mental space independent of my multiple familial and social identities,” she explains, “motherhood, being a partner, being a woman within a society that constructs our identity around the male gaze or another’s gaze. So I guess these are all about being free and unimpressionable. Making space and time to be still and to exist without pandering to anybody else’s gaze or expectations. To dive and fly and fall and rest with assurance from ourselves that we as individuals, without our socially constructed identities, are enough.”

Despite the universality of these themes, Sarana is quick to point out that womanhood is not a singular experience. “I think the female experience differs greatly depending on where you're from, where you live, your race, culture and upbringing. In my personal experience I see moves towards a more equitable future across the gender spectrum which gives me hope for my daughters as they grow, but there is a lot of unlearning of gender bias that needs to be done by society as a whole.”

She is currently based in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), a place where she has felt immense support and nurturing. “The geographic feeling of space here in the desert belies a sense of internal freedom that I find transmutes to my work. In many ways it's an environment of extremes, but within that there's a delicateness. It's like a safe haven where the Macdonnell ranges can give you a big hug and rub on the back until you're ready to face the world again. The beauty of this place, both in its environment and community, can get overlooked. Or worse, the media paints a negative picture. Perhaps that's why I like it here so much, the beauty is deep and internalised rather than flashy and overt.”

Place, it seems, matters greatly to Sarana. When we ask when she feels most empowered, she responds with “knowing where I come from — something I still struggle with at times. But I know when I feel strong in my history it makes me feel strong in my identity. I grew up with my mum always telling me my ancestors have my back, so as a kid if I was scared I would imagine them standing behind me, and I think I still carry that with me.”

Feeling secure in herself is something Sarana has had to learn. But there have been some pivotal moments — such as Randi Zuckerberg acquiring some of Sarana’s paintings, or Reese Witherspoon and Paris Hilton purchasing her digital work. “Moments like these always feel joyful and affirming,” Sarana tells us. “In some capacity they drew more eyes to my work which I'm always grateful for, but I actually think the biggest and most lasting impact they had for me was on my confidence as an artist. Each little 'yes' you get pushes you to create the next yes.”

But it’s not all about the yes. Of equal importance, Sarana says, is the freedom to say no. “Success to me is saying no to projects that don't speak to my soul, saying yes to the ideas that do, and having the means to make them a reality.” And right now, Sarana’s reality looks pretty magical.

For more information, visit www.sarana.studio or follow @saranahaeata