Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that Return to Sender contains images of deceased persons. The work includes images and themes that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples may find sensitive and distressing.
Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens has created a large-scale wall assemblage titled Return to Sender which is being presented free to the public at Carriageworks in Sydney until the 30th of January.
The piece reworks postcards that Dickens found picturing historical images of Indigenous people with contemporary representations of First Nations Australians juxtaposed to it.
The racist postcards are stamped ‘return to sender’, and they’ve been rescaled by Dickens with contemporary portraits inserted to show the defiance of modern Indigenous culture.
Dickens said she wanted to “return some of the collected items to the public that doesn’t seem to think they are racist.”
“I’m returning what I don’t like living with.”
Dickens said that her artistic process started once she saw the Enough is Enough protests in March 2021 regarding the abuse of women in the capital and “the continuation of women in this country”.
Dickens decided to pull the collection of very early Aboriginal postcards out and “use the devastating images of Aboriginal women.”
Dickens said she found the words on the backs of the postcards were “just as devastating”.
She put these postcards together with an image of a local Indigenous woman, Cindy Paden, and layered it on top of the postcards “as a sign of resilience and determination”.
“I did a similar piece with male images and used a picture of a boxer. Enforcing and imposing the resilience that we have as a people.”
Dickens paired these pieces with mailboxes she’d been collecting for some time as she wanted to relate them to the postcards.
She put names on the mailboxes and wanted to show that she’s “returning these images to the racists in this country.”
Carriageworks CEO Blair French remarked “We’re honoured to present this powerful new work by Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens. The installation is incredibly thought-provoking and encourages audiences to reflect on our culture both past and present.”
Dickens commented on Australian society’s progress in issues of race.
“I think the Black Lives Matter movement forced a lot of people to reflect on Australia’s practices and history, and it [attention and progress] comes and goes in waves,” she said.
“We’re coming up to the 26th of January, so we’ll hear a lot of opposition, as well as people saying Indigenous people need to get over it.”
Dickens however affirmed that “there’s a lot of work to do.”
“We’re a bit slow in Australia to acknowledge our past and move on from it.”
Return to Sender was meant to be presented during the Sydney Festival 2022, however, in December 2021, Dickens withdrew the piece from the Festival, saying “As a First Nations artist of Australia I withdraw my work ‘Return to Sender’ from the 2022 Sydney Festival program in protest at the negligence and complete disregard of cultural safety and duty of care on the part of the Festival with regard to participating artists, including myself.”
“‘Return to Sender’ was installed before I was made aware of any of the Festival’s funding partnerships.”
Dickens further reiterated that she went through the correct processes before the work was made in contacting the relevant people pictured, saying she wanted to protect and ensure “cultural safety”.
By Aaron Bloch