Monash University Publishing

Variations: A More Diverse Picture of Contemporary Art

Regular price $69.95
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.

This book ships Australia-wide within 4-10 days.
International Shipping available at check out.

Tristen Harwood
267mm x 210mm

How do we begin to appreciate the social, cultural, physical and neurological diversity of Australian artists? Through collaboration with artists and art collectives who reflect a range of worldviews and experiences, this handsome hardback volume of essays, artist interviews and artworks gives voice to contemporary artists who are under-recognised.

This collection is committed to reorientating discussions of contemporary Australian art through sharing the experience of artists with diverse life histories and social and cultural backgrounds, including those living with disability or mental illness, Indigenous artists, artists with a history of incarceration, artists from refugee and recent migrant backgrounds, and untrained artists who commenced artmaking following a significant life event. The twenty-five profiled artists have developed rich and complex creative practices within their communities, while experiencing social marginalisation that limits access to the art world.

To understand art-making in Australia, it is essential to listen to the voices of artists who live complex forms of social diversity and exclusion. Widely readable, beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated, this collection breaks new ground in introducing readers to a new picture of contemporary Australian art. It presents the artists’ practices in a way that is rigorous, accessible, and valuable to a broad audience – not least the artists and arts organisations themselves.

Some of the artists featured include:

  • Helen Sheferaw came to Australia from Ethiopia having experienced displacement due to war and conflict. Sheferaw began as a printmaker with the support of not-for-profit printmaking studio The Ownership Project.
  • Melbourne-based Lisa Reid is one of over 150 artists at Arts Project Australia, a supported studio that has been working with neurodiverse artists since 1974. Reid’s painting and drawing, characterised by humour and a highly distinctive graphic style, has attracted attention from private collectors as well as institutions, including the National Gallery of Victoria and Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia.
  • Safdar Ahmed is a Sydney-based artist, musician and academic, and a founding member of the Refugee Art Project. This organisation was initially founded to facilitate art workshops for people incarcerated in Villawood detention centre and to amplify their voices through exhibitions and self-published zines.
  • Incarcerated at Sydney’s Long Bay Prison during the 1990s, Colombian-born Javier Lara-Gomez began making dollhouse-like models out of salvaged materials. Prior to his tragic death in prison in 1997, building imaginary worlds may have allowed Lara-Gomez some respite but was also an outlet for his political comment. Aboriginal Cottage (1996) is decorated with magazine clippings relating to land rights activism and miniature replicas of artworks produced by fellow inmates.
  • Geelong-born, Sydney-based Jen “Wart” Waterhouse, diagnosed as schizoaffective, explores the experience of mental illness and the impact of institutionalisation in her art. Of her 2019 exhibition, ‘Unravelling Moments in a Torn Mind,’ Wart explained that “they’re showing totally how screwed up you can be through colour and shape and mis-forming that shape.”
  • As a child, Kamilaroi artist Frances Castles was taught by her grandmother to pick, dry and weave river grasses from around her homelands. In prison, Castles began working with The Torch, an organisation that supports Indigenous ex-offenders to connect with their culture and to make and sell their art. Castles’ woven baskets and textiles nourish knowledge: she taught younger Indigenous inmates how to weave. Castles wants a broader audience to ‘get a sense of what Australia and what the culture is really about’.

‘Real art is nothing if not a passage of heartfelt messages across an immense ocean of difference, of separate individuals trying to connect, to find solace, to ask “do you feel what I feel?” Variations reminds us of this deep need to express ourselves, despite all odds and obstacles, beyond all conventions, expectations and institutions — to find in that genuine diversity our common humanity, our truth.’ — Shaun Tan

Tristen Harwood is an Indigenous writer, cultural critic and researcher raised in Perth and based in Naarm and the Northern Territory. His writing appears in publications including The Monthly, ArtReview, Overland, Art Almanac, Metro and Art + Australia.

Associate Professor Grace McQuilten is an art historian, curator and artist with expertise in contemporary art and design, public art, social practice, social enterprise and community development.

Dr Anthony White is Senior Lecturer in Art History in the Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne, and the recipient of many awards and fellowships in Australia, Canada and the United States.