Fierce beauty gives a voice to dispossessed: Fiona Foley retrospective at QUT Art Museum

QUT Art Museum will present the first major solo exhibition of work by the acclaimed Badtjala artist, Fiona Foley that has been curated by a Queensland Aboriginal researcher, writer, and curator – Angelina Hurley.

Fiona Foley: Veiled Paradise runs from 19 June to 29 August 2021 and showcases key works from the leading contemporary Aboriginal artist’s nearly forty-year career; works 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.

Director of QUT Art Museum, Vanessa Van Ooyen said Foley incorporated original research around the Government-regulated opium trade and of the connection between sex and violence on the frontier and beyond, to refute colonisation’s attempts to erase her people and their histories.

“Tirelessly, through painting, photography, film, sculpture and printmaking, Fiona Foley gives voice to the dispossessed,” said Ms Van Ooyen.

“The exhibition explores themes of sex, violence, opium and land, in an expansive overview of artwork from the last few decades.”

Fiona Foley, The Magna Carta Tree #16 2021, inkjet print. Courtesy the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane. Photo: Mick Richards.

Since co-founding the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative in Redfern in the mid-1980s to now, Foley has flipped the lens of ethnography in the restaging of history and events in her artwork, amplifying the voices and perspectives of Aboriginal people.

Exhibition curator, Angelina Hurley said Foley deserves greater recognition.

“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,” said Ms Hurley.

“The room needed to be schooled further on the importance of her art and career – it’s something everyone needs to be aware of. Fiona has always been an artist of conviction, passion and truth-telling.

Fiona Foley. Photo: Scott Harrower

“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. It’s an honour to be the Queensland Indigenous curator for this exhibition.”

Ms Van Ooyen added that the exhibition was both timely and timeless.

“The conversations that Fiona was having in the 1980s are just as pertinent now. Her staunch activism—in both Indigenous rights and feminism—has sustained her practice ever since and influenced so many young Indigenous artists in this country,” she said.

“We are so proud to present this survey of works that pack a punch and encourage the conversation to continue.”

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 II.

Seminal works 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 utilise Badtjala language, Ya kari —speak for 2001.

Four of Foley’s films are also showing as part of the exhibition, including the latest, 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—an encounter recorded by the Badjala people. The other films are Bliss, Vexed and A Quintessential Act.

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

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