Sovereign storytelling: Tori-Jay Mordey on juggling work and taking a break

The Sovereign Stories showcase at State Library celebrates a decade of First Nations writing and editing excellence through the black&write! project. In this series of interviews, we talk to emerging First Nations authors about their memories of sharing stories with family, the creative process, and the power of storytelling in their lives. 

Tori-Jay Mordey is a black&write! Fellow, an illustrator who worked with Jillian Boyd on the beautiful children's book Bakir and Bi. As an artist, Tori-Jay creates conceptual illustrations, book covers, portraits and original cartoons. She has a huge interest in digital work, printmaking and filmmaking, and her gorgeous murals grace spots all over Brisbane. Tori-Jay loves to learn new art forms and loves to share her work with others.

Brisbane-based illustrator and multi-form artist Tori-Jay Mordey

What is your earliest memory of somebody telling you a story? 

Being read books as a child, more specifically I remember my mum reading us Harry Potter books before bed while we were travelling through England. It felt different cause we were kind of in the same environment as the Harry Potter books, it felt more real as a kid. 

Tori-Jay was a feature artist at the Brisbane Street Art Festival in 2020 (pic by Tae Young)

Can you describe the power in telling your own story? Have you witnessed it in others too? Where has storytelling taken you?  

I love telling stories to people, I feel like it's naturally built in us to want to connect to people through our storytelling. There have been people, mentors and teachers in my life who have passed away; but they never truly feel gone, their essence still live on in our stories and memories of them, they leave ripples behind that echo though every single person they ever met, which is such a powerful thing to have in life. Stories will continue to live on. 

Tori-Jay with her completed mural, "Cat Gal vs Bat Gal" (pic by Tae Young)

What are some shared or popular stories that have endured within your family? 

Mostly scary stories from the Torres Straits haha, the topic always seems to come up when we’re outside, sitting with family after a big dinner. My mum, aunties and uncles all recall spooky paranormal events that have happened to them on the islands. Talking about ghosts, shadow people, old legends, everything. It’s always a big hit with everyone. 

Snapshot of a blissful workspace – artist-in-residence Tori-Jay at the Museum of Brisbane, 2021 (pic by Tori-Jay)

Can you recall a moment in your life when you doubted your creativity, or didn't trust the creative process? How do you try to overcome moments like this? 

Yep, and I still do. In those moments when those doubts hit you it can be hard to get yourself out of that headspace. I’m still learning how to process it better, but I always find taking a break/walking away from the work helps, just taking a moment to breathe and put my focus into something else, before then coming back to it with fresh eyes. 

Painting while others look on (admiringly!) at the RMXTV closing event, Museum of Brisbane (pic by Joe Ruckli)

Can you describe what you are you working on now, and what keeps you inspired? 

I’m constantly working on multiple projects at the same time, so it’s a mixture of designing things for murals, illustrating some posters, preparing for a workshop, keeping updated on an upcoming book launch, while also trying to find time to create things for myself … it’s gonna be a big year.  

Tori-Jay was only 18 years old when she illustrated Bakir and Bi, a lovely and moving Torres Strait Islander story for children  

Find out more about Tori-Jay Mordey  

Thank you to Tori-Jay for sharing her art and her words with us. Check out the first interview in this series – our chat with Mykaela Saunders and the second one with short story writer Adam Thompson. The Sovereign Stories exhibition is free and open till 17 July 2022. Visit in person at kuril dhagun, level 1, State Library, or watch the digital stories online. 

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