Growing Up in Art: meet Gillian Kayrooz

“Some of the most exciting things in art and music are coming out of Western Sydney at the moment,” says multi-disciplinary artist Gillian Kayrooz. “So many people are working hard and turning their passions into a reality.”

Kayrooz, who grew up in Guildford, has wanted to be an artist for as long as she can remember. Straight after school, she headed to Sydney College of the Arts and, four years later, graduated with First Class Honours in Visual Arts.

Since then, she’s completed residencies in Australia, China and Japan, won several awards and exhibited solo shows. In December 2019, she started a year-long residency at Parramatta Artists’ Studios, which provides her with a low-rent studio space — plus loads of opportunities, like hosting exhibitions and holding workshops for the local community.

“The amount of support we get from the Council is huge,” says Kayrooz. “They really treat us like working artists and that makes me treat myself like one. I approach my practice like a job — and try to be there five days a week, from 10am till 7pm. When an exhibition is coming up, I can be there seven days!”

Much of Kayrooz’s work delves into stories of Western Sydney. Her February 2020 show FRE$H PAIR, a collaboration with artist Kimberley Peel at Liverpool’s Casula Powerhouse, is inspired by youth culture through sneakers.

“For some people, ‘sneaker culture’ is about collecting — about buying a $1,000 pair and keeping it in a box. But, when we were growing up, you had one pair of sneakers you loved and you wore them to death. You wore them at home, you wore them when you saw friends and you worked hard in them. They express the origins of community and identity.”

Her 2019 series of portraits printed on organza silk celebrates local identities. One, titled “You Going Parra Late Night?”, refers to the popular local teenage Thursday night ritual of meeting friends at Westfield, Parramatta, to “hang out”. Another, “Guildford Is On The News Again”, explores gang violence.

“My friends and I pride ourselves on being from Western Sydney. There’s nowhere else like it. It makes me the person I am and allows me to be the artist I am. There’s a humbleness and community feel that I’m not sure I’d experience anywhere else.”

In between making art, Kayrooz supports the local community by working as a Visual Arts Assistant at Catherine McAuley High School, Westmead, and as Arts and Culture Editor at FBi Radio. She also spends time soaking up the arts scene.

“Over the past few years, more and more galleries have opened up and projects have taken off,” she says. One of her favourites is OPN.SRC, a media platform that spotlights artists, musicians, fashion designers and entrepreneurs through interviews and events. Then there’s the Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE), founded in 2017. Among its initiatives are the Granville Boys Barbershop, where disengaged school students train in barbering, and New Age Noise, a free electronic music production program for female-identifying, transgender and non-binary youth.

“These kinds of projects are so important for school kids because they show them they don’t need to look elsewhere for art, music and opportunities. It’s all here and it’s thriving … As Parramatta grows as a city, with all the development going on at the moment, it’ll lend more and more of a hand to upcoming creatives.”

One place that Kayrooz hopes won’t change is Temasek, a Malaysian-Singaporean eatery hidden in a laneway in the Parramatta CBD. “My family’s been going there for more than 30 years. Growing up, we’d eat there once a week. I think I developed my high tolerance spice palate when I was about 8! Hands down, it serves the best laksa and best sambal chicken you’ll find anywhere.”

Photo by Jacquie Manning, 2020. Image Courtesy Parramatta Artists’ Studios.

Gillian Kayrooz

Gillian Kayrooz
Gillian Kayrooz -2020 Resident at Parramatta Artists’ Studios