The Hanging: Shimmer Shellwork

March 2nd 2016


Suzanne Stewart, Jewellery Box, 2009, shells, fabric, cardboard. Photo by Bernie Fischer


There’s something quite calming about being in a space with hundreds of shells, arranged delicately into different sculptural forms. Shells conjure nostalgic memories of beachside holidays; foraging for treasures in the sand on long hot days in the sunshine.

For Indigenous artists from the South Coast of NSW, Tasmania, the Kimberley, and Torres Strait Islands, the process of collecting shells is just one part of the intricate practice of shell art. Indicating a connection to and knowledge of the land, this is a tradition that has been passed from generation to generation.

Historical and contemporary shell-working traditions in Indigenous Australia can be seen in Shimmer, an exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery curated by Tess Allas, Tahjee Moar and Darrell Sibosado.

The exhibition situates the use of shells as a medium in various contexts, and explores the lineage of intergenerational tradition: at once playful and kitsch, yet also weighted in colonial Australian history.

The more time you spend with the exhibition, the more you appreciate the process behind the works and the cultural significance they hold. Watching the videos on the upper level of the gallery enables a deeper understanding of the intricate stringing method behind Lola Greeno’s scallop, mussel and warrener necklaces. Witness the laborious yet cathartic process embarked on by Esme Timbery, who uses hundreds of tiny shells to adorn brightly coloured velvet sculptures of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, arranging the shells according to line, shape, size and colour.

These works are shown alongside contemporary interpretations of shell art, including prints of a shell necklace from the Eastern Islands region of the Torres Strait by Tahjee Moar, Romance Was Born platform shoes made in collaboration with Esme Timbery, and a bisque porcelain shell midden comprised of numerous handcrafted abalone shells by Tess Allas.

Shimmer tells personal stories of tradition that are contextualised in political Australian significance. The need to preserve Indigenous Australian culture is presented in a beautifully human way. All are welcome to learn about the history of shellwork in contemporary art.


WHAT: Shimmer Shellwork
WHERE: Wollongong Art Gallery
WHEN: Until 6th March, 2016
HOW MUCH: FREE – more info here



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