Dr Fiona Foley is a Maryborough-born Badtjala (Butchulla) artist, from K’gari (Fraser Island) in Queensland an academic and writer whose work is held in many Australian state, national and university collections. Fiona was awarded her PhD with Griffith University in 2018. While she lives in Meanjin (Brisbane), she regularly travels back to Badtjala Country to create work.
Her career spans three decades and draws heavily on her ancestral connections. The common themes of land, sex, opium and violence that run through the exhibition, Veiled Paradise, are represented in the mediums of painting, photography, installation, sculpture, etchings, pastel on paper and printmaking.
Her work brings visibility back to a First Nations people, culture and history that Australia continues to try to mask. As Fiona comments, There was not much of a trace pertaining to Badtjala people’s lives and I probably became very conscious of that—how people are written in and written out of history. When you go to Hervey Bay, you’re not going to see very much in relation to the traditional landowners there in terms of public spaces.
We are pretty invisible on our own Country and part of my promise and premise is to write Aboriginal people back into the visual landscape.1 Fiona’s early artistic inspiration was from her Uncle Wilfie and Aunty Olga, who were siblings. They wrote and illustrated the book The Legends of Moonie Jarl (1964), 2 now officially acknowledged as the first Aboriginal children’s book. Fiona describes the illustrations as extremely striking.
Fiona Foley: Veiled Paradise exhibition is on tour from QUT Art Museum, where it was first shown in 2021 and runs at McClelland from 25 June - 9 October 2022 presenting a significant crosssection of key works from Foley’s nearly forty-year career in one comprehensive exhibition. Foley’s work is informed by her ancestral connection to K’gari/Fraser Island, drawing equally upon its serene beauty and the history of systemic violence and sexual exploitation perpetrated on its shores.
Tirelessly, through painting, photography, film, sculpture and printmaking, Foley gives voice to the Badtjala. The exhibition explores themes of sex, violence, opium and country, in an expansive overview of artwork from the last few decades. Foley’s practice, spanning over almost forty years—from the co-founding of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative in Redfern in the mid-1980s, to now, has seen the artist flip the lens of ethnography in the restaging of history and events in her artwork. McClelland’s Director, Lisa Byrne, notes: “Fiona Foley is a leading contemporary Indigenous Australian artist with a strong sculptural practice, and we at McClelland are honoured to host this selection of her work. “While confronting and uncompromising in its depictions of colonial violence, Veiled Paradise is also testament to the artist’s humour, confirming her enduring significance to contemporary Australian art.
“Fiona Foley’s commitment to truth-telling through her art and life has not wavered across decades, and this expansive exhibition demonstrates the importance of her consistently challenging and powerful work. “Situated on Bunurong Country, McClelland is dedicated to facilitating and presenting First Nations arts and culture while exploring the connections between art and nature through spatial practice”, Ms Byrne said. Veiled Paradise sees some of Foley’s most iconic works and some of her less-seen works put into the spotlight.
This exhibition also features three new works—The Magna Carta Tree 2021, a photographic series; the new sculptural work Eleven Days; and a new series of Foley’s iconic hoods, titled Hunted III. Seminal works included in the exhibition include works from the artist’s Black Velvet series, breast plates from the series Horror Has a Face, and the photographic series The Oyster Fisherman 2011. Less-seen works include one of the artist’s earlier sculptural works, Annihilation of the Blacks 1986; the painting Aboriginals Excluded 1985 Perspecta vs Token Aboriginals included 1989 Perspecta 1989; and a series of banners which utilize Badtjala language, Ya kari—speak for 2001. Four films will be showing as part of the exhibition, including the latest film, Out of the Sea Like Cloud 2019, which looks at the oldest recorded encounter of the 1770 Endeavour ship’s voyage which sailed past Takky Wooroo, K’gari—the encounter was recorded by the Badtjala people. Also included are the films Bliss, Vexed and A Quintessential Act.