Janet Fieldhouse, Meriam Mir (Torres Strait), Armbands 2012, porcelain, The University of Melbourne Art Collection. Gift of Anthony Scott, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne. Photograph: Christian Capurro
Janet Fieldhouse combines an exploration of contemporary ceramic techniques with a commitment to preserving the cultural traditions of the Torres Strait Islands. As the artist has stated, ‘My work is an expression of my Torres Strait Islander heritage: the material culture, rituals of social and religious life, and the artefacts which are created to fulfil the functional and spiritual needs of the peoples of the Torres Strait.’ Born in Cairns, Fieldhouse has familial connections to Erub and Badu Islands, situated in the eastern island group of the Torres Strait.
Fieldhouse’s work draws upon a range of techniques, from hand-built raku forms to delicately woven porcelain works referencing body adornment. She begins with extensive research into historical archives, often studying ethnographic photographs to learn about material and ceremonial practices. This research provides a foundation for experimental approaches to form and materials, through which the artist both refers to her cultural heritage and extends it into new territory. For example, even though working with ceramics is not a tradition in the Torres Strait Islands, Fieldhouse’s porcelain Armbands, seen here, refers to a technique distinctive to the region in which pandanus palm is woven into mats, baskets and armbands. This technique continues to be practiced throughout islands of the Torres Strait today.
As the artist explains: ‘I see our culture as a contemporary culture, not purely as a traditional culture. In my life experience until now all the traditional culture has been essentially gone. None of the old people were available to me, to guide me in the way the culture would have been. And so I haven’t grown up in the tradition: but I’m looking to it, finding it, bringing it into me.’
Janet Fieldhouse Armbands 2012, installation view. Photograph: Peter King
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