Vicki West

Respect and Protect


When the people of Bothwell presented Robinson with this cup, it was an acknowledgement of the ‘success’ of his mission to conciliate the Tasmanian Aboriginal people.  With their removal to Flinders Island the way was open to establish the myth of the extinction of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. 
Kelp is a traditional resource utilised by my ancestors to create water carriers and these were an essential element of their toolkit for survival.  Drawing on this the kelp for me becomes a metaphor of survival, and a way of challenging the pervasive myth of extinction. 
It is an important cultural resource, and its environment is under threat due to global warming, and other environmental threats.  The decline of kelp forest is a mirror of the larger global situation, which ultimately places all of our survival in question.  
The large netted form is symbolic of a water carrier in its form.  However unlike the water vessels created by my ancestors this one will not hold water rather playing with shadow and light, becoming a container for cultural knowledge, hidden histories and deep submerged memories.
‘…the past retains the power to haunt and to seduce us, to shame us and to make us proud.’
One of the elements in the installation is the nine water carriers, which acknowledges and pays homage to the nine Tasmanian Aboriginal nations, and reference the interconnected relationship that Aboriginal people (past and present) have with the natural world.
The water carriers rest on pelts of wallaby and kangaroo which references the Old People’s use of kangaroo skins for creating pillows for sleeping on and cloaks that gave protection to the wearer from the elements.
Our ancestors lived in unison with natural environment, knowing that we are just one part of an interconnected and interdependent natural system and that we have an obligation to care for, respect and protect all things that are a part of this.

Edited Marilyn Lake, 2006, Memory, Monuments and Museums, The past in the present, Melbourne University Press


Vicki West is a Tasmanian Aboriginal installation artist who works with kelp, textiles, vines and seeds to create sculptural installations that speak of the impact of invasion, government policies, land rights and social justice issues. West is a descendant of the Trawlwoolway people of north-east Tasmania and her heritage inspires much of her artwork. She works with kelp, dodder vines and seeds that connects her to her ancestors, in particular the women and their kelp and weaving traditions.

In West’s hands the kelp and the dodder vines take on a more contemporary form. With an understanding of the traditional knowledge of how to collect, dry and manipulate these materials, she brings to life objects that at first viewing appear 'ancient’ but on closer inspection have meanings and subtexts that are relevant to a modern audience. For example her kelp vests are armour-like costumes sewn to form a physically fragile vest that has the appearance of wearability. The dodder vine woven objects comprise rows of interconnected woven circles that hang suspended, evoking a fantasy world where light and shadow suggest the whispers and movements of ancestral spirits. Yet these same suspended objects have a contemporary sculptural appearance that today’s art audiences can relate to.

West is not only an exhibiting artist but also a curator and a workshop and conference presenter. In 2001 she curated the exhibition 'Taking Our Place’ at Gallery A, University of Tasmania (Launceston campus) and in 2004 she conducted a weaving workshop with fellow weaver Yvonne Koolmatrie at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston and a kelp workshop at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. In 2006 she presented a conference paper at the Selling Yarns conference in Darwin and for the touring exhibition 'Woven Forms: Contemporary basket making in Australia’ at Object Gallery in Sydney. In 2007 she was invited to sit as a member of the Aboriginal Advisory Committee for Arts Tasmania.

In 2008 West completed her Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Tasmania’s School of Visual and Performing Arts, Launceston. This completed a period of study that began more than a decade earlier when she enrolled in a Bachelor of Fine Arts (awarded in 1999) and then a Bachelor of Fine Arts with First Class Honours (awarded in 2001) from the University of Tasmania.