Categories: Art, Uncategorized

Fiona Lee Prepares us for the Unpreparable

When the bushfires of 2019 ripped through NSW, artist Fiona Lee and her family lost the home they built, her studio and years of planning for sustainable rural life on Biripi Country. Fuelled by this loss, she turned to community, art and activism to amplify her rage against political sentiment at the time. This loss now drives Lee, like many artists to give voice to environmental issues. While dealing with the immediate impact of losing her home, political and public commentary emerged that this was not the time to talk of climate change. The response from artists was swift.

Installation View, Unpreparable by Fiona Lee (2021)

“I felt silenced by politicians. I had to call out these comments. There is a clear link between the bushfires and a heating planet and I’ve used the evidence of the climate crisis, the scorched remnants of my home, to communicate this.”

Eighteen months later, Fiona Lee presents her solo exhibition at Maitland Regional Art Gallery at a time of disruption. Discussions about climate change are no longer dismissed by industry and government and there is a general heightened sense of awareness of the direct impacts of a heating planet. The exhibition also brings back this traumatic episode for so many at a time when talk of these fires was all but extinguished by the pandemic crisis of the past year.

In 2011, Lee completed her honours degree in Fine Art and virtually halted her art practice altogether. “I really questioned my voice in art and whether art had the power to affect change. I think that is ultimately why I stopped making.” In an effort to directly express her political concerns, she chose to dedicate her time to climate justice and environmental activism. When the bushfires were raging across the east coast of Australia, Lee’s home was lost amidst reports by the then Deputy Prime Minister that comments by people who linked the fires with climate change were the “ravings of pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies.”

This turn of events drew her back into art and through the gift of a creative residency at Newcastle’s Creator Incubator, Lee began to create powerful political works out of the ashes and remnants of her home. Re-casting and reimagining her daughter’s lost clothes in resin, this cathartic process became both an outlet for both her grief and her rage.

Installation View, Unpreparable by Fiona Lee (2021)

Sorting through the mess, she was driven to represent the elements that made life on their property possible. “Initially,” she explains, “I chose objects that spoke to the experience of living in the bush and living off-grid and being vulnerable to the elements. Items that spoke to survival like water. We were in drought for most of the time we lived on the property, so water was crucial to our survival. I started making things that reflected the need for water, power, food and shelter.”

This exhibition brings to the audience a deeply personal trauma rendered into a collective lightning rod for broader concerns about the impact of climate change on our lives.

“Art can often say what words cannot and I hope this exhibition will help people grasp the existential threat of a heating world more fully.”

Images Courtesy of Maitland Regional Art Gallery

Unpreparable by Fiona Lee is on exhibition at Maitland Regional Art Gallery from 11 Sept – 28 Nov 2021. Free.

Maitland Regional Art Gallery & Shop

Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

230 High Street, Maitland NSW 2320



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