The Heart of Koh Living

The Heart of Koh Living

Tui Cordemans can still remember the first moment she encountered Aboriginal art.

Culturally Belgian, she was born in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and raised in Mexico. As an adult, she lived in various European cities, and wasn’t surrounded by the style and aesthetics of Aboriginal artworks. Just over twenty years ago, that all changed.

“I arrived in Australia, and there it was.” Tui recalls. “I’d never seen Aboriginal art before, but I was instantly struck by the beauty. I remember thinking that it was the most stunning and vivid art I’d ever seen.”

This is especially significant given that Tui lived in Europe where galleries are graced with the likes of Michaelangelo, Van Gogh or Matisse. However, Tui is unapologetic in her championing of Indigenous art. And it is nowhere more evident than in the artistic direction of Koh Living. “Their artwork is gorgeous and it should be seen everywhere,” she says. “It is tragic to me that this is not the case.”

Koh Living exists (in part) to try and change that. As the co-founder and self described ‘Dreamer’ of Koh Living, Tui runs her business with goals beyond profit or growth. “Koh was founded by my best friend Nyree Hibberd and me, and our vision for the company from the very beginning was to leave the world a better place than how we found it,” she says.

Therein lies the crucial difference: Koh Living gives back a portion of each sale to the artist themselves. 

This ongoing financial support allows the artist to focus more on their art, without having to dilute their efforts into more mundane paid work. Partnering with Koh Living also amplifies their reach in ways that would have been unthinkable for them previously.

“I get a lot of satisfaction when I see the reaction we get from an artist who is seeing their work showcased to a much broader audience. They are super excited that we chose them and their artwork to go into the world. It can be a life changing moment.”

One such flow on effect of this financial support is that some artists have begun visiting schools to run workshops on art. The idea that this might inspire the next generation of Indigenous artists is exciting to Tui. It is the protection and preservation of culture, and it is entirely authentic because it puts Aboriginal people in the driving seat, rather than presuming that white people must be the saviours. “I’d love to see those communities to be as vibrant and thriving as they were before Europeans came,” she explains. “They are a proud, noble people. It is the oldest continuing culture in the world. I’ve been talking to Jacinta-Rai (Ridegway-Maahs, a current collaborator with Koh Living), and she has the most beautifully authentic stories I’ve ever heard. A lot of that is in their artwork. And those stories should be told.”

Koh Living has focused on art for the last ten years, and true to form, the first artist employed was Indigenous. These days, Koh has a strict mandate to work exclusively with Australian designers, and the vast majority of these are still Indigenous. “A lot of our artists are from the Northern Territory, but we have a couple from Queensland, and New South Wales as well. Eventually, I would love to expand out to cover more of the country. It’s important to note that this art isn’t monolithic, there are so many different styles and approaches.”

Ultimately, a product from Koh Living is so much more than a beautiful and unique item. It is an act of participation in a social good. It is a reminder that you have funded an Indigenous artist to continue telling stories, some of which have been 60,000 years in the making. With your contribution, who knows, but it may last another 60,000 years.

Visit our wide range of products designed exclusively by Indigenous artists and be part of the solution today.