For Mandy Quadrio creating art is an act of asserting sovereignty. “The forms and images I make hold stories, but they’re also acts of resistance, allowing me to assert and reclaim my presence as a proud Palawa woman,” says the artist. Quadrio’s latest exhibition, Speaking Beyond the Vitrine, continues this ongoing political and artistic pursuit.
Showing at Metro Arts, Speaking Beyond the Vitrine presents Quadrio’s unique approaches to sculpture, photography and installation. The works speak to both the artist’s Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) cultural heritage and the brutalities of colonisation. By using certain materials, Quadrio shows how materiality is linked with various political, emotional and historical narratives. “Quite often our perceptions of the world are inscribed on the surface of things,” she says.
In particular the artist creates works using steel wool and bull kelp. “The reason why I use steel wool is that it’s a harsh, abrasive material, and that speaks to the scrubbing out and the cleaning away of Indigenous culture, history and identity. It’s embedded with narrative and also speaks to domestic servitude where Indigenous women have had to keep white environments clean,” explains Qaudrio.
Meanwhile the Tasmanian bull kelp was historically used by Qaudrio’s ancestors and is part of her Palawa material culture. “The bull kelp grounds my work and affirms my identity, and it provides symbolic and aesthetic relevance to the work,” she says.
Combined together, the materials register a multifaceted history and experience. As Qaudrio points out, “On the one hand it reveals the brutal side of colonisation, while on the other it’s also a celebration of the richness of Palawa culture.”
“I’m rejecting the framing of colonisation and foregrounding my history by representing Palawa culture, stories and lived experiences in my own way, and in my own terms,” she says.
The artist is also concerned with uncovering the false historical myths surrounding Indigenous Australians. “I make work to speak against the incorrect myths and fictions of Australian history and to expose the historic and continued denial of the existence of Tasmanian Aboriginal people,” explains Quadrio. “My work acts to destabilise this grand narrative of colonisation where, as an Indigenous Palawa woman, I’m assumed to be extinct.”
Quadrio’s solo show opens during NAIDOC week, which this year addresses the ongoing legacy of Indigenous women.