Ruby Cownie’s 2019 Pulse Perspectives Packers’ Prize artwork, Between the Lines, presents a unique look at the emotional trauma refugees go through during migration.
The 2019 Pulse Perspectives (formerly Year 12 Perspectives) is the highlight of any year 12 visual art students’ calendar, giving them the chance to showcase their works in a professional, highly regarded gallery setting. Held at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Pulse Perspectives gives viewers a unique insight into the thoughts and issues concerning the young people of this millennia.
This year, the lauded young artists’ exhibition features 46 works by 2018 visual art students from across Western Australia. Among them is the Packers’ Prize winner – Between the Lines, by Presbyterian Ladies College graduate Ruby Cownie. Fabric chats to Cownie about her award-winning piece and the inspiration behind it.
FQ: What influenced Between the Lines?
RC: After hearing from refugees in the media about discrimination, trauma and hardship, I was compelled to share their stories. All of the articles were cold, hostile and didn’t discuss these people like they were humans. I wanted to represent their stories and journeys to make a comment about the hardship and the resulting emotional trauma that they still carry with them. My artwork is about drawing attention to the emotional experiences of refugees as individuals. I felt that the media continued to refer to refugees as some entity that lacked any connection to the people as individuals. The artwork tells the story of the emotional experiences that a refugee must feel; the loss of their homeland, the experience of war, hope for the future and memories of the past.
FQ: Explain the different components of your artwork, and how they relate to your chosen subject matter.
RC: The mainly monochromatic work reflects the sombre mood of the subject matter, with splashes of colour representing the hope and vision of a new life. The dress has screen-printed line work of many faces, connected like a map. The threads and fine handmade webbing epitomizes the trauma left behind in former countries. The straps are indicative of life vest straps and a harness, which represents the refugees constricted lack of freedom. The largescale jacket is a sculptural element and a piece of clothing, symbolic of the ever-present darkness and heaviness felt as refugees flee the devastation in their homelands. The fabric depicts wire fence enclosures of detention centres. The back is polychromatic with sequins, and the face represents all refugees’ stories as one – faces which are forever etched with unhappiness, despite the shiny sequins. There are ties on the jacket. Ties to past, to relatives, culture and past lives that are part of the fabric of their lives. The hand-painted suitcase is a metaphor for the emotional baggage that a refugee brings with them into their new life. It depicts the journey, experiences, and the face of a refugee woman whom I met and who inspired this work.
FQ: Why did you choose textiles to bring your artwork to life?
RC: I chose textiles, designing original patterns, creating fabric and sewing garments to embody refugees who travel with their only possessions being the clothes on their backs. Creating artwork in the form of clothing also reinforced that the story was about the person as an individual, and not a general reference to ‘refugees’. Clothing is personal, individual and says a lot about someone’s identity, so I found it intriguing to use everyday clothes as a sculptural piece.
FQ: How did you go about designing Between the Lines?
RC: I always had the idea of doing a project on refugees. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to present that in my art or with what medium I was going to use. When I first begun my artwork I was making a corset out of old maps collaged together. It didn’t seem right, so I started again with a material I felt better suited the theme and the ideas. The materials and the development of the concept itself took a lot of research. I researched into different stories, including the story of my neighbours’ mother, who was a south Sudanese refugee. I was lucky enough to have my art teacher Emma Haining for guidance, as well as Anna Kotai, who taught me how to sew and helped me along the way.
FQ: What’s it like being a part of an exhibition at AGWA?
RC: Amazing! When I found out I was going to be part of it I was beyond thrilled. I’ve always been to Perspectives and the art gallery as a child with my Grandmother and parents wishing that one day my art would be up there. I am really excited for the new AGWA Pulse (a year-round program of art experiences and events for 15 to 21-year-olds) and what it will bring for young artists.
FQ: What got you first interested in art?
RC: My family have always encouraged me to be creative. Both my parents are in creative industries and my Grandfather was an artist for The Western Australian newspaper. As a young child I remember doing numerous art competitions and just painting around the house. My parents introduced me to different artists and showed me the ability of using materials to portray concepts. I’ve always been really intrigued by art and the way you can express yourself and your ideas to the world.
FQ: What influences your works?
RC: I have been fascinated by the creative story telling in the fashion world, by designers such as Alexander McQueen and Vivian Westwood. I have also been interested in the underlying meanings in the work of Australian artist Ben Quilty and his bold use of line and colour.
You can view Cownie’s winning artwork Between the Lines, along with other West Australian year 12 visual art students’ works, at AGWA until July 22, 2019.
Visit – AGWA