Fiona Foley The oyster fishermen 1, ultrachrome print edition of 15 60 x 80cm
In this new body of work, Foley again explores the greater historical narrative of Queensland and it's treatment of indigenous people. Through a series of 16 sepia-toned and hand-tinted photographs, she examines, in particular, the relationship between fishermen and indigenous people which she describes as one of exploitation and harsh brutality.
The narrative in this series, The Oyster Fishermen, starts off poetically enough, but by the final six images, we have witnessed a harrowing ordeal that ends in death. It is most likely that this work is based on historical fact, however the artist does not wish to disclose factual details of the situation, but rather let the images tell their own story. As viewers, we are confronted with the cruelty and senseless violence perpetrated against a young woman and are left to imagine the retribution, or lack thereof, for the offence.
This is an interesting stance, especially as she is also showing in Undisclosed, the current National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia, curated by Carly Lane. This exhibition makes us aware that art isn't always about "full disclosure". Every culture, every family, every person has their own mysteries and secrets, and what we see and hear is moderated not only by what is presented to us, but also by what we bring to the situation - our own cultural understanding of history.
Let a hundred flowers bloom, 2010, Foley's work in Undisclosed, examines the little talked about use of opium in Queensland in the late-1800s and the consequences for the Aboriginal population of Queensland. The repercussions of the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897.
Foley has never shied away from making tough, political statements. Bearing Witness exhibited on Cockatoo Island for the Biennale of Sydney in 2010 was a strong and poignant series of photographs, particularly in light of the Palm Island court case at the time. The works currently showing at Niagara, and also at the Triennial at the National Gallery in Canberra are equally as powerful in their investigation to reveal historical truth.