Karla Dickens: Embracing Shadows

Karla-Dickens-Fever-2022-courtesy-of-the-artistRunning 3 January to 12 March 2023, Campbelltown Arts Centre (C-A-C) is proud to present Embracing Shadows – a survey of work by Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens – the Lismore-based artist’s first survey exhibition.

Spanning 30 years of the artist’s practice, the new exhibition will focus on themes of female identity and racial injustice, subjects that are frequently explored in Dickens’s reflections on Australian culture.

Born in 1967 in Sydney, Karla Dickens is of Wiradjuri, Irish and German descent. Through collage, painting, installation, photography, film and poetry, Dickens’ practice is a highly personal and political interrogation of Australian culture and history.

This exhibition brings together the artist’s key bodies of work for the first time, including Butterfly Wings (1995), Sheila’s Downunder (2002), Black Madonna (2009), and ‘Workhorse’ (2015).

A highlight are the bodies of work, A Dickensian Country Show, A Dickensian Circus and A Dickensian Sideshow (2018-2022), which explore the marginalisation, racism and cruelty shown toward First Nations people in circus shows and tent-boxing troupes from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Dickens uses recycled materials and found objects to represent persistence against violence and misunderstanding. In these series, Dickens’s use of found objects embedded with racial stereotypes link her sculptures to contemporary stories of pride, resistance and dispossession.

The artist’s work often focuses on the female experience, exploring her role as a woman, as a mother, and racial and gender discrimination. Bound (2015) explores six different situations affecting women in abusive relationships.

The work revolves around a series of straightjackets to represent the difficulty of leaving to find freedom, with each piece uniquely decorated to reflect different forms of abuse.

Another key work, Return to Sender, first shown at Carriageworks in 2022, re-contextualises vintage postcards in a commentary on racism in Australian culture. Dickens makes no apology for how uncomfortable her work makes the viewer.

“This country was settled on rape and theft of land. I’ve been healing from the generational trauma stemming from the abuse of Aboriginal women for years, and for me this process involves making art,” said Dickens. “Australia has a brutal history when it comes to the treatment of women, which is often overlooked.”

C-A-C’s 2023 exhibition will also premiere Disastrous – a new series created following the record-breaking floods that devastated the artist’s hometown in the Northern Rivers in early 2022.

Dickens lived through the February flood events that swept across Bundjalung country around Lismore, the place she has called home for the last 20 years.

It has been a year of tumultuous highs and lows for the artist: she was also the subject of 2022’s Archibald Prize winning portrait by fellow First Nations artist, Blak Douglas, who captured Dickens standing knee-deep and defiant in flood waters.

Reflecting on events over the past two years and the tragedies faced by communities in the Northern Rivers, Dickens says the new series asks difficult questions about environmental devastation impacted by colonisation.

Embracing Shadows seems to be the clearest and most straight-to-point path I take in the studio when creating art,” said Dickens. “I know many shadows. It is through my knowledge of these shadows that I have gained freedom, finding the courage to walk with and through them.”

“Even though it can be dark, I do hope viewers will engage with the pockets of humour and leave seeing me as more than just a middle-aged emo.”

Dickens’s work has featured in major group exhibitions in Australia and internationally, including A Dickensian Country Show, 2020 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, and A Dickensian Country Circus, NIRIN: 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

She is also one of nine artists selected to create a new commission for the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ major expansion project, Sydney Modern. Dickens’s work is also held in many public and private collections across Australia and overseas.

“We are extremely honoured to be presenting the first survey exhibition by Karla Dickens, one of this country’s most important artists,” said Campbelltown Arts Centre Director, Michael Dagostino.

“The themes of Embracing Shadows speak perfectly to our current time and the pressing issues threatening our future, while also weaving intricate links with the often-untold histories of so-called Australia.”

“We trust that audiences, both local and international, will resonate with Karla’s fearless voice.”

Karla Dickens: Embracing Shadows
Campbelltown Art Centre, One Art Gallery Road, Campbelltown
Exhibition: 3 January – 12 March 2023
Free entry

For more information, visit: www.c-a-c.com.au for details.

Image: Karla Dickens, Fever, 2022 – courtesy of the artist