Fiona Foley / Badtjala people, Wondunna clan, Fraser Island / Australia b.1964 / Black velvet 1996 / Cotton fabric with cotton appliqué / 9 bags: 99 x 20cm (with handle, each); 180 x 200cm (installed, variable) / Purchased 2001. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Fiona Foley
Black velvet 1996

Not Currently on Display

Simple in its form, Fiona Foley’s Black velvet 1996 is a series of modest cotton dillybags hanging in two rows, but its deeper meaning packs considerable political punch, inviting viewers to consider racism and the sexual exploitation of Australian Aboriginal women.

The work is quite straightforward: a set of nine stitched cotton bags, hybrids based on both traditional Aboriginal dillybags and more modern equivalents made from flourbags or, more recently, bags made by third world manufacturers for first world counter-cultural markets.

The red and black emblem stitched to the front of each bag is a representation of the female sexual organ. Black velvet can also be viewed as a proclamation of Foley’s own sexual confidence and power as a contemporary Indigenous woman.

Foley’s investigations of historical events illuminate confronting aspects of Australian history, drawing attention to the way colonisation has affected, and continues to affect, Indigenous Australians.

Born in Maryborough, Queensland, Fiona Foley is a descendant of the Badtjala people, whose ancestral homeland is K’gari (Fraser Island), off the coast of south-east Queensland.

In 1973, Foley’s family moved to Sydney, and it was there that she completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 1986, majoring in sculpture. She was a founding member of the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Residents Ko-operative (BAARK), along with nine other artists, including Michael Riley, Bronwyn Bancroft and Tracey Moffatt.

In 1995, she moved to Hervey Bay and worked with her mother, Shirley Foley, to establish the Badtjala people’s native title claim to land on Fraser Island, which was awarded in 2014.

Using photography, sculpture, film, painting and printmaking, Foley addresses issues of gender, race and history. She challenges the way many Australians have traditionally defined Aboriginality, often using her own heritage as a starting point to explore aspects of Australian history that have been forgotten or hidden from view.

Foley has completed a number of important public art commissions, including:

  • pavement designs based on Indigenous shields for Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall in 1999
  • the Bluewater Trail of public art along Mackay’s Pioneer River, and
  • Witnessing to silence 2004, a sculpture installed at the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

Featured Resources