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Reviews/Visual Art

Cornucopia of craft surprises and delights

5 October 2021

Ambitious and diverse, Fremantle Arts Centre’s instalment of ‘IOTA21: Curiosity and Rituals of the Everyday’ is a seamless continuation of the celebration of contemporary craft that began at John Curtin Gallery, discovers Craig McKeough.

‘IOTA21: Curiosity and Rituals of the Everyday’, various artists ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·

The Fremantle Arts Centre segment of the Indian Ocean Craft Triennial (IOTA) flagship exhibition “Curiosity and Rituals of the Everyday” is a cacophony of diversity and a celebration of human endeavour. It sprawls through the venue’s South Wing Galleries, offering surprise and delight at each turn.

The elements are wildly diverse, encompassing innovative contemporary approaches to traditional craft from around the Indian Ocean rim, from southern Africa to India and Thailand, and back home to Whadjuk country. Some challenge the viewer as they pose pertinent questions about our place in the world, and others simply honour the people and wonders around us.

Sharyn Egan and Djidi djidi group (Gail Beck, Luana Daley, Margaret Drayton, Brenda Hill, Doris Hill, Kaye Walley, Marie Walley, Kathleen Toomath, Larissa Perry, Georgia Shuttleworth), ‘What’s In a Noongar Woman’s Handbag?”, flat stone, quartz, stones, charcoal, kangaroo goona, balga resin, kangaroo sinews, needles made from kangaroo bone, shavings of kangaroo skin, mussel shells, knives, hatchet, pipe clay, red ochre, yellow ochre, paperbark, emu feathers, spare ornaments, small banksia cones, husbands spare weapons, pieces of wood, roots collected daily, wax. Photo: Christophe Canato

In one room, ‘What’s In a Noongar Woman’s Handbag?/Naatj Noongar Yoka Kooda’, sees Noongar artist Sharyn Egan and women from various Noongar nations reconstruct bags that were traditionally made and used by their forebears. Comprised of hand-sewn kangaroo hide, the bags and their assembled contents – collected by Egan and her collaborators – sit next to beautifully carved and decorated pearl shell from the Kimberley, by Bard men Darrell Sibosado and nephew Darrell Jade (DJ) Kyle, and Sibosado’s brother Garry Sibosado. Each item is imbued with cultural practices of thousands of years.

Thania Petersen channels her Malay heritage and challenges notions of a cultural divide within her country’s people of colour in her bold embroidery works. Pictured: Thania Petersen, ‘SONOP/SONAF’, 2021 Embroidery Thread on Cotton Fabric, 187 x 134 cm

On opposing walls in the same room hang Thai textile artist Jakkai Siributr’s lavish, almost garish, colours of disassembled and restitched garments telling a deeply personal story of family relationships. Also hanging here are the similarly bold coloured, large embroidery works of South African artist Thania Petersen, who channels her Malay heritage and challenges notions of a cultural divide within her country’s people of colour.

The co-location of these works defies any sense of a shared narrative or visual aesthetic, but each is given room to breathe, and they share the space in surprising harmony.

The adjoining corridor is given over to an impressive collection of 70 eco-dyed and woven wall hangings by Sydney-based artisan Liz Williamson who explores the stunning variety of natural dyes obtained from different eucalypt species. This is truly a representation of the earthy colours of Australia, but one that has been taken across the ocean and back, with some of the silk dyed by artists in India and Bangladesh.

These are placed adjacent to Gleaming Decay, a large triptych by Thai weaver Wuthigrai Siriphon, who combines age-old techniques with a contemporary design sensibility, including the use of visually arresting, iridescent jewel beetle wings in his woven bamboo work.

Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru highlights a serious message through a playful approach with his flamboyant masks cleverly constructed from junk, pointing to the need to minimise the human imprint on the earth.

A person wearing a mask made of layers of discs.
Playfully approaching a serious message: Cyrus Kabiru, ‘Macho Nne (Diptych) I’, 2018, C-Type Print on Diasec Mount, 100 x 90 cm

From India, Ishan Khoshla also examines how we interact with our environment as he explores human relationships with animals. His collection of vignettes of painted wooden sculptures and found objects is charming and engaging. Each item honours a different wild or domestic animal, and ponders what will become of these creatures in time to come. Will they adapt and persist or succumb to human influence and become little more than a memory saved as logos and brand identities of products for human consumption?

Fremantle artist Susie Vickery all but steals this show with her installation work The Curious Five Go Surfing, a triumph in narrative development and innovative staging (detail pictured top). Vickery tells the stories of five women whose extraordinary feats of daring in different fields span oceans and recall times when to be a woman was to take a step back. But these women did the opposite and Vickery honours them with an artwork that combines deft design, quirky mechanical elements and highly developed skills in textile dyeing, embroidery, stitching and felting to produce an interactive wonderland that visitors can wander through as they engage with countless diversions and details. Young people will love it and visitors of all ages can immerse themselves and be inspired at the same time.

This exhibition is a testament to the extraordinary nature of its works; works that might – in another situation – be unfairly dismissed as “just craft”. In contrast, here they are elevated to the platform they deserve. The collection is a wonderful companion and seamless extension to the IOTA offering at John Curtin Gallery, which opened a week earlier. It is not necessary to see both to appreciate each one, but such is the ambitious scale of the project you will be missing out on something special if you don’t.

“Curiosity and Rituals of the Everyday” continues at FAC until 7 November 2021.

Pictured top: Detail from Susie Vickery’s installation ‘The Curious Five Go Surfing: ‘James Barry Escapes Quarantine’, 2021, cotton thread, cotton, leather, wool, found objects, 35x25cm.

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Author —
Craig McKeough

Craig McKeough is a writer and visual artist, with a lifetime’s experience in journalism, covering everything from the arts to horse racing, politics and agriculture. Craig has always been drawn to the swing; an egalitarian, grounding piece of equipment where you can go as high and wild as you want, but you’ll always return to where you started.

Past Articles

  • Photos capture this extraordinary moment in time

    In spite of leaning towards tradition in some respects, the IRIS Award 2021 makes for a compelling survey of contemporary photography in Australia and beyond, Craig McKeogh finds.

  • Celebration of craft is a stunner

    The first of the Indian Ocean Craft Triennial’s centrepiece exhibitions weaves together the disparate cultures of the Indian Ocean rim in ways that Craig McKeough finds profound.

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