Coledale artist uses clothing to tell story of refugees

Coledale artist Michele Elliott's latest exhibit is Whitewash. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Coledale artist Michele Elliott's latest exhibit is Whitewash. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

A jumble of bleached-white fabric, strewn across a blank canvas in a sparse corner. Feelings of isolation, loss, disconnect, tumult. Quiet now but hinting at some unknown tragedy just occurred.

Whitewash is the latest showing from Coledale artist Michele Elliott, using the most commonplace and everyday of items - our very clothing - to tell a story about asylum seekers.

"Around the time of the last election, all the talk about protecting borders and who to let in, I started thinking about what happens when people leave and what they bring with them," the artist explained.

"Refugees often only bring the clothes on their backs when they make a journey."

A mess of more than 50 shirts, shorts, dresses and jeans have been dyed white, stitched for a permanently crumpled look - "like contours on a map," Ms Elliott said - and pinned to the blank walls in Wollongong Art Gallery. They are meant to look as if floating on top of ocean waves, sun-bleached and lost; or like rags washed up on a beach. Flotsam and jetsam.

"Clothes speak a lot about the absent body they belong to. Clothes have a life and a connection to their wearer."

"Clothes speak a lot about the absent body they belong to. Clothes have a life and a connection to their wearer."

"It is about the idea of the ocean and fluidity, of being alone and in the unknown," Ms Elliott said.

"Clothes speak a lot about the absent body they belong to. Clothes have a life and a connection to their wearer."

Ms Elliott said the asylum-seeker debate, as well as deadly typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, had a bearing on the exhibit but recent events lent a new interpretation. The search for flight MH370, seemingly culminating with the discovery of floating wreckage in the ocean off Western Australia, is hard to put out of mind when viewing the exhibit.

"It is something I wanted to reveal itself slowly," Ms Elliott said. "I don't like my work to have too obvious a meaning."

Whitewash is at the gallery until May 11.

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