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Indigenous women artists: Leah King-Smith and Andrea Fisher

  • Written byLibby Stewart
  • DateFri, 06 Jul 2018

This NAIDOC week we honour the theme of ‘Because of her, we can!’ by recognising the work of two contemporary Indigenous artists.

Andrea Fisher: Worn Breastplates Series 1, 2009

'The words sista and brotha are etched into the brass breastplate to reclaim one's identity. The use of colour is to identify both women’s and men’s business as strong aspects of Aboriginal culture, that are bonded through mutual understanding and respect.' (Andrea Fisher, artist statement, 2010)

Andrea Fisher was born in Brisbane and is from the Birri Gubba language group from central Queensland. Her paternal family, the Fishers, were moved to Cherbourg in southern Queensland in the early 1900s when the settlement was known as Barambah. In 2001 Andrea graduated from the Queensland College of Art with a degree in Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art. Her professional work was aided by her association with the Brisbane-based Indigenous art collective proppaNOW, a group which aimed to change the definitions of what Aboriginal art should be.

Andrea developed the Worn Breastplates series in 2009 after exploring the Queensland Museum’s collection of breastplates and their history. In colonial Australia, the giving of metal breastplates to senior Aboriginal men and women was one way that colonial rulers tried to control Aboriginal people. When Andrea saw the Queensland Museum collection she was shocked to see that some contained bullet holes, a grim reminder of the often fractured and deadly relationships between white and Aboriginal Australians. Her creation of this series was a way for her to reclaim Aboriginal history, to help fill in the gaps where Indigenous stories and perspectives had often been misrepresented or left out altogether.

Andrea Fisher's "Worn Breastplates Series 1", 2009

Andrea Fisher, Worn Breastplates Series 1, 2009. Credit Museum of Australian Democracy Collection

Leah King-Smith, Patterns of Connection, 1991

‘(I feel) a sense of deep connectedness, of belonging and power in working with images of my fellow Indigenous human beings.’

Leah King-Smith was born in Gympie, a Bigambul descendant who became a visual artist and lecturer in Brisbane. She studied fine arts and photography in the 1980s, and developed an interest in exploring issues of cultural discord in her art practice through her own family experiences. The 1991 series, Patterns of Connection, was developed after Leah was invited by the State Library of Victoria to select images for publication from the library’s collection of 19th century Aboriginal people. The photos produced in her several conflicting emotions: anger, resentment, powerlessness and guilt at the treatment of Aboriginal people in colonial Australia, together with ‘a sense of deep connectedness, of belonging and power in working with images of my fellow Indigenous human beings.’ She decided to adapt the photos to become a commentary on the colonial impact on Aboriginal culture.

In this series, King-Smith has superimposed archival images over her own photographs of the Victorian landscape. Parts of the image have been painted over, then the whole re-photographed and printed in large-scale Cibachrome. Her work was an attempt to recover Aboriginal people from the archives and reposition them in a positive, living, spiritual realm. She reunited figure and landscape to convey the importance of landscape to Aboriginal people, to reposition them in the foreground of their environment, with the negative connotations of mission, reserve and studio background pushed to the rear.


Libby Stewart was a former historian at MoAD.