Chaos and composure: Olivia Colja’s Return to the Hook


A sharp two-stanza poem by Margaret Atwood ends with the lines “a fish hook / an open eye”. It offers an uncomfortable positioning of being both inside and outside the boundaries of control within individual relationships. Navigating such an in-betweenness of chaos and composure especially drives Olivia Colja’s art and her exhibition Return to the Hook.

“In a way I’ve always been preparing for this show,” says Colja, who has been creating and exhibiting for more than a decade, alongside being a youth worker and advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse young women.

Colja speaks of how difficult questions around intimacy propel her latest work. “Competitive love is dangerous and Returning to the Hook is a line between knowing what’s moral and what’s socially taboo, but still behaving in a harmful way towards yourself and others. It can be subtle and unconscious, or aggressive and explosive,” explains Colja.

With 15 large-scale paintings bursting with layers of maroons and crimsons shifting into blues, yellows, and shades of white and black, Colja’s abstract works interrogate what it means to be ‘good’. This includes being a good artist, a good woman and a good person. “By dealing with my own cultural challenges, I’ve returned to colours that I find both comforting and difficult to work with,” she says. “I deliberately do this because I want the colours I begin painting with to become different colours by the time a painting ends.”

These themes are also considered in relation to fish and marine life. As Colja explains, “I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the Ninagloo Reef… I’ve had strong reactions after swimming with the most beautiful kinds of fish and you see their vulnerability and curiosity. And then they are hooked, and we eat them.”

Return to the Hook
Olivia Colja
Kolbusz Space
22 July—24 July and online

This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Autumn Royal