Elizabeth Lada Gray
For Elizabeth Lada Gray, the instinct to tell and immortalise stories of human migration in oil paint on linen, both historical and current, has been a long and continuing commitment. The migrants who made Tasmania home have been ever present in her thirty years of art making and their stories and objects will continue to manifest in her art. Her painterly images of migratory objects in the still life genre are oblique portraits of the migrant participants and an aide-memoire for the absent and irrecoverable in their lives.
Stories and objects belonging to migrants residing in Tasmania are Elizabeth’s source of artistic inspiration. She collects migratory stories of Tasmanian migrants attached to their treasured mementos, souvenirs and dowry collections. Sometimes seen as clutter, often dismissed as worthless, for the artist these nostalgic objects are imbued with geography, history, cultural customs, memory, loss and life experiences.
Home gardens are a ubiquitous component of Tasmania’s landscape. They are sites of bio–diversity and experimentation, sanctuaries for endangered plant and animal species and sites of food and medicinal plant security. These gardens are social spaces that express cultural diversity and where identities are shaped and communities are moulded as the natural landscape continually undergoes transformation.
Gardens are also supportive consoling environments that enabled early and contemporary migrants to establish continuity between their homeland and adopted country. Gardens that often reveal the owners’ imprint of their cultural connections to the Tasmanian landscape.
I illustrate how resident migrant women use memory entwined with needle and thread to navigate the challenging customs, language, terrain and unfamiliar plants and seasons, thus melding their traditional embroidered imagery alongside new–found Tasmanian florae.
This painting celebrates Tasmania’s 23 million years old Wynyardia Bassiana fossil, the indigenous inhabitants middens, the colonial and post–wars migrants who reformed the landscape via vegetation and stitch, and this island’s tenacious wildness.
Memory Stitches: a Painterly Exploration of Migratory Dowry
Elizabeth’s current paintings, Memory Stitches: a Painterly Exploration of Migratory Dowry, depict the embroidered dowry linen belonging to post Second World War migrant women residing in Tasmania. Traditional European matrilineal dowries were the material foundation for marriage, the establishment of a new family that represented the continuation of cultural heritage, social status and bride-wealth. They were commonly comprised of everyday domestic objects such as woven, stitched and exquisitely embroidered tablecloths and bed linen and other household cloths. Motivated by the personal stories attached to dowry, Elizabeth has created a suite of paintings that aim to challenge the perception that dowry has become a mere token of the migration experience and gives recognition to a cultural practice that is gradually declining.
“Because migrants and their stories, steeped in dispossession, dislocation, displacement and emigrational journeys, have been ever present in my long life I do not see that I will ever be free of working with them, but rather migrants will continue to manifest in my art. A reciprocal arrangement filled with the worthy promise to keep telling their stories.”