A curious sea change
Susie Vickery likes travelling. She even likes airports. Though it wasn’t always the case.
“I travelled so much. I used to think ‘I can’t bear this,’” the Fremantle-based artist says. “Then I decided I was going to relax and enjoy it. Do some embroidery. Watch some films. Get excited about what airport I’m going to. Mumbai Airport, for example, is amazing. It’s like an art gallery.”
Bear this in mind when you visit Susie’s installation, The Curious Five Go Surfing, on show at the Fremantle Arts Centre as part of a larger exhibition, Curiosities and Rituals of the Everyday.
Because it requires you to take a journey. To participate. To engage. It’s both airport — or should that be seaport? — and art gallery in microcosm.
Susie’s speciality is embroidery and textiles. She started her career as a costume designer before transitioning to a socially-based fine arts practice. She’s worked on community arts, crafts and income-generating projects, especially for women, in places as far afield as India, Nepal, Tibet, Myanmar, Mexico, Turkey and China. Locally, she’s worked with Aboriginal and refugee groups.
Her art, which includes dolls, puppets, automata and textile pieces, draws inspiration from the various cultures she encounters and the projects she’s involved in.
The Curious Five Go Surfing is no exception. A collaboration involving indigo dyer and printer Bappaditya Biswas (Kolkata, India), Janakpur Women's Development Center (Janakpur, Nepal) and Mark Binns (Fremantle), this is the Indian Ocean as maze, as mythological and environmental chronology, as crazy girl-power (sea)road trip. The Curious Five being five women — including Effie Fellows and Fearless Nadia, both born in Perth — who chose either to disguise themselves as men or to transition/transgress social and gender-based mores in order to travel the world and achieve their dreams.
There are real and mythological creatures. There are dolls and puppets, many brought to life by turning handles. The materials include organic cotton, natural dyes, leather, wool, found objects, brass and wood.
As the exhibition’s catalogue says, the installation is “an immersive maze of fabric ocean waves in which stories are told through interactive automata, puppets and embroideries… (It) tells the stories of five curious women who transformed themselves and in turn transformed the world… Visitors will cross the Indian Ocean, a space in which boundaries are fluid and expectations confounded.”
It's a witty, magical work addressing serious issues. As you proceed through the indigo maze, the “ocean” becomes more and more filled with plastic waste; there are also endangered fish whose bellies likewise become filled with the toxic refuse. But the journey ends joyously: Susie has the five women surfing together — albeit on bits of plastic rubbish.
Like all art, there is an autobiographical element in The Curious Five Go Surfing. Not explicitly; it’s more that Susie embodies the idea of transformation and self-transformation through travel.
“My stuff is about storytelling, about issues,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of work on garment factory and sweatshops. I’ve also made puppets of some of the people we’ve worked with.
“In southern Nepal, I used to see all the posters of Bollywood film stars, and Hindu god in their cafes. So I did ordinary people as icons, in little metal frames. They were called Icons of the Ordinary. It was about elevating ordinary people. They were so excited.”
She says The Curious Five Go Surfing is about looking at people who transformed themselves. “It’s this idea that you’re getting other people’s perspective,” she says. “And I feel lucky to know really poor people. Because it gives you such a good perspective on life. To see how philosophical and generous they are. I really like that.”
Part of the Indian Ocean Craft Triennial 2021, Curiosities and Rituals of the Everyday is on at the Fremantle Arts Centre until November 7, and at John Curtin Gallery until October 31. Entry is free.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails