In ancient Chinese beliefs, the cicada was a symbol for purity and life after death. Carved life-size out of bone and beautifully incised with a taotie motif, a cicada was placed on a deceased’s body in the tomb, sometime over two and a half millenia ago, to ensure their continued life in the ancestor world.
A few years ago, a Sydney artist’s desire to reconnect with her Samoan heritage saw her travel to Samoa to go through the ritual of malu. With the sacred pattern beautifully incised on her skin, she now carries the protective female tatau. This traditional malu connects the living with their ancestral lineage. On returning to Sydney, she created charred, towering totemic sculptures that conjure this ancestral rebirth, evoking female spirits that brought the tatau across the water to Samoa.
This sculptural installation by Stevie Fieldsend and the Zhou dynasty cicada are part of ‘The Ancestors’, guest curated by Catherine Benz. Contemporary works evoking the continuation of the past in the present are punctuated by ritual objects of ancestor worship and cosmology from ancient China, India and Timor Leste. Ancestral lineages, temporal thresholds and shadows of the dead and unborn are conjured by the five artists in installations, gestural painting, works on paper and video. Carved, incised, burnt, pierced and erased, the artworks are active and corporeal.
“On entering the exhibition, my aim is that the visitor will enter a mood evocative of a time that extends before and beyond the present. This exhbition is an invitation to dwell for some moments amongst the ancestors.” Catherine Benz
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