Supporting the journey of motherhood, in style

Sarana Haeata On Exploring Motherhood, Self-Acceptance And The Female Experience Through Art

Sarana Haeata is a Māori-Australian artist and a mother to four girls. We chatted to Sarana about identity and self-acceptance in the lead-up to her first solo exhibition, ‘I Send Myself Love Letters’.

Three years ago, Sarana Haeata and her husband Tom packed up their life and their four girls – Isbel, 11, Ivy, 9, Avalon, 6, and Lyra, 4 – into a camper trailer and hit the road.

Originally from Fremantle WA, the family rented their home and drove north. “We followed the warmth and eventually ended up in a remote Indigenous community in Arnhem Land for a brief stint where Tom worked and the kids went to school, before eventually finding ourselves in Alice Springs (Mparntwe),” Sarana tells THE INARRA. Sarana and her family have now called Alice Springs their home for two years. 

Having a big family is not something Sarana envisioned for her future. “While I was growing up I had this idea that I’d become a single mum to one son and we’d live in a tiny (but stylishly eclectic) apartment in New York,” she says. “My life is hilariously the polar opposite of that. 

“I became pregnant when I was 22 with my eldest daughter when Tom and I had only been dating for a few months, so it turned our lives upside down very suddenly. Luckily, it turned out that Tom is actually a really excellent person, so my single mum dream flew out the window.”

Sarana is aware that she is bringing her girls up in a world full of inequalities. “They’re the generation that will have to continue to fight for First Nations’ rights because ours seems to be taking continual steps backwards,” she says. 

“I feel sad at the state of climate change and what that will mean for my future grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But, at the same time, I’m so excited for them to discover the world and experience all its chaos and richness.”

“You must be malleable to adapt and surrender to the chaos. I love being swept around in the churning waves of my children’s lives. I get rolled and dumped constantly, but when I come up for air I’m fresh, salty, alive and giggling like a maniac despite my mouth full of sand.”

Sarana wears SIR Aries Halter Gown

Artwork from Sarana's exhibition, 'I Send Myself Love Letters'

Artwork from Sarana's exhibition, 'I Send Myself Love Letters'

Sarana wears SIR Aries Halter Gown

Embracing the chaos of life is something Sarana loves most about being a mother. “When I was growing up my mum would always tell my brother and me to ‘go with the wairua’. In a blunt translation, the wairua is a Māori term for the essence of life. 

“This essence is an ever-moving force – it has the energy of our ancestors and of the universe. We can try to fight that moving energy or we can let it carry us to where we’re supposed to go. The universe’s journey to our destination may be very different from what we ourselves had in mind, but believe me – it’s much easier to surrender to sudden change than to fight it.”

“Parenting will serve you up a big piece of humble pie. Things can change at the drop of a hat. If your child is unwell or has an accident, whole work days and weeks can suddenly go out the window. I’ve spent the last three years of Christmas days (consecutively) in ED with a sick child. Hilarious. 

“You must be malleable to adapt and surrender to the chaos. I love being swept around in the churning waves of my children’s lives. I get rolled and dumped constantly, but when I come up for air I’m fresh, salty, alive and giggling like a maniac despite my mouth full of sand.”

Raising daughters, Sarana recognises the importance of modelling self-acceptance and self-love. “I used to be self-deprecating on things such as parts of my body, or perhaps self-limiting on what I could achieve. 

“But now, having four young girls taking in all that I do and say, I make sure to never put myself down. To always say, ‘Yes I’m beautiful!’ and to chase my dreams so they know that no matter what their situation, their dream chasing is always valid and important.”

Sarana’s journey with motherhood and womanhood – the beauty and nuances of identity and the female experience – has informed her art. Her work is abstract, expressive, energetic and spans painting, digital art and ceramics.

Sarana wears SIR Aries Halter Gown

Sarana was always around art growing up (her dad was an artist and she went to a school that had a strong art focus), but she didn’t consider art a career path until she fell pregnant with her first daughter.

“Becoming a mother added fuel to my need for a career,” Sarana says. “It is exceptionally difficult to enter the workforce if you had kids before having a career. It’s daunting and can make you question your worth entirely when there’s a many-year gap on your CV.

“But this is where my ‘there are no rules’ moment came shining in. My career can be made in whatever way I choose to make it. My ambitions have only become bigger and bigger.”

Sarana’s ambition has led to her first solo exhibition of canvas and ceramic works, which she has called ‘I Send Myself Love Letters’. Talking about the exhibition, which is showing in Sydney in November, Sarana says it’s mainly about the power of self-acceptance versus mass acceptance.

“As women and as mothers, there are many pressures being funnelled onto our bodies and minds. I had my first baby at 22 and my fourth at 30. By 32 I was done breastfeeding and by 33 I was getting to sleep through the night for the first time in a decade. I think my body actually went into shock.

“I became intensely tired, which the doctor concluded was from running on high amounts of cortisol and adrenaline for 10 years. I found I went back into an era similar to post-natal depression where anxiety and sadness began to flood in as my body was regaining its balance. 

“It was then that I realised how exhausted I actually was. So this body of work is me sending myself a love letter, sending all women a love letter. Because being all things to all people is hard, beauty standards are hard, motherhood is hard, glass ceilings are hard, the gender pay gap is hard. 

“I love motherhood and womanhood deeply and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world but there’s no doubt that for many, it’s back-breaking work. Hilarious, joyful, chaotic, back-breaking work.”

Artwork from Sarana's exhibition, 'I Send Myself Love Letters'

Sarana has always had to balance motherhood and her commitment to art. When her kids were young, she was the stay-at-home parent while Tom worked full-time. She had to make the most of any spare moment.

“I stayed up late at night to work on marketing, building websites and answering emails or finishing commissions. I used nap time in the day to create whatever I could in my home studio. I became a master of 15-minute productivity blocks. I sacrificed time with friends, and my priority when I had a free moment was always: art first, housework later.

“In retrospect, I’m proud and grateful for this span of time and my determination to juggle it all, but I do just want to tell that woman that it’s OK. There’s time. You don’t have to do it all now. You’re tired. Go have a nap. Take yourself to the beach and for a coffee and you don’t need to justify it to anyone.” 

Sarana finds great comfort in her girlfriends and emphasises the importance of creating connections with women at a similar stage of parenting. “No one will really understand the true depths of your sleep deprivation and lowered personal hygiene standards like those going through the same thing,” she says.

“Here in Alice, I feel so lucky to be surrounded by incredibly smart, strong, caring women who both constantly nurture me and inspire me. I’d be a sad, shrivelled sack of a person without them.”

Sarana has had many learnings throughout her career. One is the realisation that there are no rules when it comes to art.

“I know it seems like there are – like curators and gallery owners and senior artists are part of a secret club with a secret handshake and secret rule book that you must somehow penetrate. But there’s not. You don’t have to reach your career goals via the same road as everyone else. You can literally create your own road. You’re an artist! That’s your job description: To create.”

Sarana has also learned not to put certain people on a pedestal. “Every curator or person of perceived power is just a person. Same as you and I. You can approach this person for a conversation. You can put your work in front of this person and if a collaboration happens that’s great and if it doesn’t that’s great – because it wasn’t the right person for your art and therefore won’t lead your art to the right eyes.”

Another thing Sarana knows to be true is that your inner critic is your biggest blockade. “The only thing that will stop you from success is the voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough. Tell that voice to shut up. Its words are not helpful nor necessary at this time.”

Sarana had counselling for a few years to combat imposter syndrome and self-doubt and improve the relationship she has with herself. “I try my hardest to convert that imposter syndrome voice into a pep talk voice, to talk to myself as I would talk to a friend or to my daughters.

“I think also as we get older you begin to realise that everyone is plagued with this horrible inner critic, so I now know that no one is really judging what I look like or what I do because, unfortunately, they’re too busy judging themselves. For me, overcoming imposter syndrome is a constant practice but it’s incredibly freeing when that voice is suddenly a little bit quieter.”

Through self-acceptance, Sarana has learned that her voice is valid. “The voice I have through making art is just as important as anyone else's,” she says. 

“The art industry is competitive and challenging. Knockbacks are always plentiful but, my gosh, I’m pretty darn good at receiving No’s. A ‘No’ is fuel for my fire.”

As an artist living in rugged desert terrain, Sarana’s personal style is “laid back, sophisticated tom-boy-turned-artist with holey sneakers but expensive taste” – not dissimilar from her style at age 10. “I still look back on my white singlet and knee-length board shorts and think: Yeah, that’s a vibe.”

Some of her favourite labels are Alpha60 (“The Kirby Pant in beige-black-paprika is calling my name in the breeze”), Lottie Hall, Kowtow, Still Here NY, House of Darwin, SUK Workwear, Kristin Magrit, Many Peaks Assembly, Post Sole (“namely the Trail Square in Mahogany Shine”), Radical Yes, Extra Vitamins, Slow Love, Sir The Label, Alemais, Lee Matthews, Bassike, St Agni Studio.

Looking ahead to the next 12 months, Sarana says she’s excited to create and show her art. “I feel really certain of where to put my energy and the kind of life I want to grow,” she says.

“I’ll be living back by the beach and I’ll be kid-wrangling like a pro wrestler. What more could you want?”

By Ellie Wiseman. Photographed at Rainbow Studios by Kaitlyn Bosnjak.

Sarana’s beautiful first solo exhibition ‘I Send Myself Love Letters’ is taking place at Rainbow Studios in Darlinghurst, Sydney from 2nd - 17th November.

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