Karla Dickens:
Material Memory

Artist Karla Dickens explores feminism and First Nations sorrow with wry humour.

feature by LOUISE MARTIN-CHEW

In the studio adjacent to Karla Dickens’ home in regional New South Wales, there are so many found objects stacked around the space – from bird cages to aluminium bin lids, dolls, fabrics and leather – that the finished artworks, those in progress, and materials just arrived from ‘car boot’ (the local second-hand marketplace) become a crowded cornucopia more like an installation than a working space. However, when you see discrete works by Dickens presented in a white-walled gallery, like the three monumental crucifixes that line the wall at her current Artspace show Just Not Australian, her richly resonant constructions take on a completely other power. This work is titled Never Forget (2019) and connects a series of large-scale crosses with a wandering painted line on the wall. Each crucifix is distinct: the central one sports chains and the vagina-shaped Workhorse made from the yoke of a saddle; another has metal underpants pierced with items you would rather stay well away from the tender parts of your body; and the third is covered with imagery about visiting royals that incorporates Australian colonial iconography. The violence and emotional abuse that has characterised the treatment of Aboriginal women in Australia’s history is the undercurrent that joins the destructive potential of these materials to their highly crafted construction. And they pack a punch.

Artspace’s Just Not Australian followed an extraordinarily busy year for the artist. Dickens was the solo artist for Andrew Baker Art Dealer at the 2018 Melbourne Art Fair, and produced two other commercial exhibitions for his Brisbane gallery in 2018. For Melbourne, Warrior Woman underpants – made with... Subscribe to read this article in full

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