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First solo exhibition for Fiona Foley

[by Katrina McClelland]

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Fiona Foley, The Magna Carta Tree #2 2021, inkjet print. Courtesy the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane. Photo: Mick Richards.

McClelland will present influential Badtjala artist Fiona Foley’s first major solo exhibition, an important amplification of the voices and perspectives of Aboriginal people.

Curated by Queensland Aboriginal researcher, writer and curator, Angelina Hurley, the exhibition is on tour from QUT Art Museum, where it was first shown in 2021.

Fiona Foley: Veiled Paradise runs at McClelland from 25 June - 9 October 2022 and will see a significant cross-section of key works from Foley’s nearly forty-year career come together in a comprehensive exhibition.

Foley’s work is informed by her ancestral connection to K’gari/Fraser Island, drawing equally upon its serene beauty and the history of systemic violence and sexual exploitation perpetrated on its shores.

Incorporating original research around the Government-regulated opium trade and of the connection between sex and violence on the frontier and beyond, the artist refutes colonisation’s attempts to erase her people and their histories.

Tirelessly, through painting, photography, film, sculpture and printmaking, Foley gives voice to the dispossessed. The exhibition explores themes of sex, violence, opium and land, in an expansive overview of artwork from the last few decades.

Foley’s practice, spanning over almost forty years—from the co-founding of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative in Redfern in the mid-1980s, to now, has seen the artist flip the lens of ethnography in the restaging of history and events in her artwork.

Exhibition curator, Angelina Hurley, said “I recall a recent brief introduction Fiona gave as “someone who has worked in the arts for over thirty years”, a modest understatement I thought. The room needed to be schooled further on the importance of her art and career. It’s something everyone needs to know.

“Knowing Fiona from my days as an arts worker in Sydney in the early 90s, as a board member advocating for Aboriginal arts back then, she’s always been an artist of conviction, passion and truth-telling.

“Displaying previously unseen works Veiled Paradise is recognition of an artist who has not only paved the way for the next generation of First Nations contemporary artists but is an inspirational voice for Aboriginal women”.

McClelland’s Director, Lisa Byrne, said “situated on Bunurong Country, McClelland is dedicated to facilitating and presenting First Nations arts and culture while exploring the connections between art and nature through spatial practice.

“Fiona Foley is a leading contemporary Indigenous Australian artist with a strong sculptural practice, and we are honoured to host this selection of her work.

“While confronting and uncompromising in its depictions of colonial violence, Veiled Paradise is also testament to the artist’s humour, confirming her enduring significance to contemporary Australian art.

“Fiona Foley’s commitment to truth-telling through her art and life has not wavered across decades, and this expansive exhibition demonstrates the importance of her consistently challenging and powerful work”, Ms Byrne said.

Veiled Paradise sees some of Foley’s most iconic works and some of her less-seen works put into the spotlight. This exhibition also features three new works—The Magna Carta Tree 2021, a photographic series; the new sculptural work Eleven Days; and a new series of Foley’s iconic hoods, titled Hunted III.

Seminal works included in the exhibition include works from the artist’s Black Velvet series, breast plates from the series Horror Has a Face, and the photographic series The Oyster Fisherman 2011.

Less-seen works include one of the artist’s earlier sculptural works, Annihilation of the Blacks 1986; the painting Aboriginals Excluded 1985 Perspecta vs Token Aboriginals included 1989 Perspecta 1989; and a series of banners which utilize Badtjala language, Ya kari—speak for 2001.

Four films will be showing as part of the exhibition, including the latest film, Out of the Sea Like Cloud 2019, which looks at the oldest recorded encounter of the 1770 Endeavour ship’s voyage which sailed past Takky Wooroo, K’gari—the encounter was recorded by the Badtjala people.

Also included are the films Bliss, Vexed and A Quintessential Act.

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