Reaffirming Identity

Fab art: Works by Kerry Giles (Kurwingie) Gallerie Australis Adelaide South Australia 23 November - December 1993

Kerry (Kurwingie) Giles' print For my Children on the front cover of the 1992-93 Annual Report of the Department for the Arts and Cultural Heritage was exhibited at Tandanya as part of the cultural program for the Okayama/South Australian sister state agreement in recognition of the power of the message encapsulated by the image.

The strength of the lineal elements of that very successful print as well as the content (or context) of those images have been developed further in an exhibition of works called FAB ART recently held at the Gallerie Australis.

Put together as part of the Indigenous Arts Festival, FAB ART illustrated the extension of at least three key elements of Giles work.
Not only was there a further exploration of a medium which has held significant fascination for Giles but there was a growth and confidence of the stylistic
elements chosen to represent the images of a child©hood spent on the banks of the River Murray as well as a maturity of content.
Working in fabric or related materials links Giles with the earliest development of her skills. Belts decorated with swans or turtles, goannas or mussels echoed the images which decorated the moulded leather bowls, bags and hats. Leather skins were also hand painted or screen printed.

More importantly, Kurwingie's recognition that art can be used to reaffirm the identity of Aboriginal culture for her children was strengthened by the choice of images and their dynamic representation on the lengths of silk and cotton. Her positive vision of a future where the two cultures can exist side by side was particularly vividly portrayed in the recurrent image of the Black Swan which was repeated in many various combinations. The black and white image of two swans linked together around a clutch of eggs, where the swans are both protective and at the same time proud and assertive, conjured up a sense of unity of cultures for the sake of future generations. This was reinforced by the enclosing double circles around the two swans from which radiate sinuous lines perhaps stretching to the past and the future. A very powerful image where the sense of self, both unique and in its genetic transformations, was asserted by a series of dominating white thumb prints representing eggs at the same time as stating the role of the artist as creator of visual symbols sufficiently powerful to challenge existing world views.

Changes to the fabric colourways allowed this image to take on very different characteristics reflecting either the warm earth tones or the depths of the Murray River without any loss of the strength of the symbol.

The increased confidence of Giles as an artist can also be found in the bold new colours chosen as background for other fabric lengths. Rainbow bright colours or colours which capture the mood of the waterways allowed the delicate outlines of cockles and periwinkles, fish, pelicans, ibis, and turtles to coruscate across the surface as elusively as the light across the surface of water. Silk fabric supplied an additional dimension of lightness and delicacy.
The challenge for Giles will be to develop her unique voice relying on her cultural background but at the same time evolving artistically so that her visual responses will not be stifled by a viewing public which demands "Aboriginality" - a dilemma currently being faced by Sally Morgan.
FAB ART, textile and fabulous, was a fitting closure to the International Year for the World's Indigenous People.

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