For 15 years, Victorian artist Fiona Clarke has used painting and tapestry to explore her cultural heritage. An artist of the Kirrae Whurrong of South West Victoria, Fiona is the first Indigenous artist in Australia to weave her traditional designs on an upright tapestry loom.
In 2003, she was invited to the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, where she commenced work on the major piece Talking Tucker. Using bold, minimalist designs, set against the colours of the earth Fiona’s work engages in a complex dialogue between the traditional and the contemporary, exploring concepts of memory, identity and the intersections between tradition and personal narrative.
Experience and memory play a large part of Fiona’s art practice, with many of her works being in response to her childhood experiences with her father, the late Banjo Clarke, elder of the Kirrae Whurrong. Speaking on some of the works in the exhibition, Fiona notes;
In many of my paintings I have used the eel symbol. My father talked a lot of these creatures due to their importance to our survival.Focussing on traditional symbols, community and culture, Fiona’s paintings evoke a hazy, dream-like presence that harks back to the persistence of memory.
Like her father’s story of the eels, for Fiona, painting represents a battle of renewal – sometimes born from pleasant reminiscences, while at other times, the memories reveal painful stories of discrimination, pain and loss.
Unflinching in their personal honesty, the paintings and tapestries of Fiona Clarke are personal testimonies to her cultural and inner strength. They reveal an artist working with complete conviction towards preserving the legacy of her people and her past.