Across June and July, Onespace will showcase the exciting new work by two prominent practitioners from Moa Arts in the Torres Strait, Fiona Elisala Mosby and Paula Savage. Both artists have made important contributions to the development of Torres Strait art in recent years, pushing the boundaries between traditional and contemporary art practice. Their colour lino cuts and pochoir prints, paintings and woven works explore the materiality of their lived experience; a world of tropical gardens and island reefs, of wind and currents, deep water and calm, elements woven together as colour, form, and light.
Moa Island is one of the largest islands in the Torres Strait, located in the Western Group of Islands midway between the tip of Cape York in Qld and the southern shores of Papua New Guinea. This group of islands are considered the most culturally complex in the Torres Strait. The surrounding waters and reefs hold a diverse range of land and marine eco systems, which are home to many rare species such as dugong (dhangal) and sea turtle (waru).
FIONA MOSBY (nee Elisala) is a Kala Kawaw Ya speaker, originally from Dauan Island in the northern cluster, now living on Moa Island. Fiona’s works are informed by traditional knowledge and cultural practice, but they also speak to the experience of the individual, specifically spiritual life. Hers is a uniquely feminine perspective that looks at ideas around personal transformation, entanglement and spiritual action.
When Fiona prints pandanus leaves for instance, she captures the colour and sounds of different stages of its life cycle, including the fire patterns that pass over and transform them so that they are rendered, like all of us, in a state of constant transformation. Another approach which is unique to her work is her use of the individual units of minaral. These she blows up large so they move away from being an individual unit or element of traditional design to become the subject itself. Anthropomorphically activated in this way the prints create linkages between cultural history, ancestors and spirit, by reframing them in a contemporary context. This is another example of a radical revision of traditional creative practices taking place in her work.
PAULA SAVAGE is from the Serganilgal clan near the village of Dabu on Moa Island. Family, history and cultural knowledge are powerful drivers in Paula’s work as well, but her work steers closer to current day experiences, energising the materiality of everyday life. Crab shells, fish bones, shellfish, the reef and its multiple life forms, clothing; all of these keenly observed motifs are more than observations, they are part of her lived experience. She speaks about what they do, with the awareness that how they are to her is how they have always been, to her and to others. They are not representative points along a grand narrative, they are immediate and real moments of her life.
Weaving is another significant current in her work and a practice in which she is prolific. ‘One twist’ Island style weaving (one over, one under) is a skill she learned not from being directly taught by an aunty or grandmother, but from observation. In recent times she has moved away from bags and baskets to more ambitious objects and vessels that capture the forms, colour and movement of the reefs that circle the islands. They are more like studies of the natural world than functional objects.