Karla Dickens is a cross cultural artist of Wiradjuri heritage who lives and works in Lismore, New South Wales. She lists some of her subjects as “politics, love, sex and the environment”.
Karla Dickens’s works, Clipped Wings II and Work Horse II, speak of institutional captivity as well as the domestic and sexual servitude that has characterised the lives of Aboriginal women in Australia since colonisation. Dickens’s works give commanding expression to physical, emotional and psychological threats. Most of her assemblage work is made from bits of popular colonial-era bric-à-brac as well as more damaged and less desirable bits of detritus. She reclaims Aboriginal meanings for them because the original objects, some of which are considered ‘collectable’, are too often fetishised through a lens of White nostalgia that she refuses to leave unchallenged. In Dickens’s hands these objects, rescued from rusting away in dark spaces and developing a romantic patina, are shown as the material residue of violence and exploitation, brutality and trauma. In Clipped Wings II it is her own grandmother’s domestic enslavement that she addresses. A cage for the human body, it speaks of confinement and torture. Dickens harnesses the power of assemblage to recombine disparate elements in unexpected ways that generate startling and disruptive meanings. Old cricket stumps and horse yokes may fetch prices as collectables on websites like eBay and Gumtree, but here they are reconfigured as a powerful and disturbing representation of rape.
Christine Toussainte Morrow