Carriageworks unveils major new installation by Karla Dickens 6 Jan 2022

Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens reworks a collection of found postcards from the turn of last century to reflect on Australia’s racist history

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.

Carriageworks, one of Australia’s largest multi-arts precincts, has today unveiled a new large-scale wall assemblage titled Return to Sender by acclaimed Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens. Installed in the Carriageworks public space and presented free to the public until 30 January 2022, the installation reworks found postcards picturing First Nations people from the turn of last century with contemporary representations of First Nations Australians.

In a show of pride and defiance, these racist postcards are stamped for return to their sender. Dickens rescales the postcards and inserts two defiant contemporary portraits of First Australians into the scene. Printed on industrial tarpaulin, these collaged images are framed with domestic detritus, from rusted corrugated iron to unhoused front fences and decapitated letter boxes, sealing the installation with a 200-kilogram prison door.

Return to Sender acknowledges the persistence of racial violence in contemporary life. Courageous and timely the work is a call for resistance. Artist Karla Dickens said: ‘I have always seen it as my duty to bring home objects depicting First Nations people and give them a safe home. The thought of leaving them for a racist to own scares me. I want to pay respect to the people depicted in the postcards and hope to bring back any power stolen when these historical images were first taken and distributed. May we all continue to reveal, engage and expose Australia’s darkness.’

Carriageworks CEO Blair French said: ‘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.’

Return to Sender was commissioned by Carriageworks in early 2021 for presentation during Sydney Festival 2022, however in December 2021, Karla Dickens made the decision to withdraw the work from the Festival program. Karla Dickens said: ‘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.’

Carriageworks respects the artist’s decision to withdraw the work from the Sydney Festival program and maintains its commitment to the artist and this important work by continuing with the planned exhibition, on display until 30 January 2022.

Carriageworks is free entry and open to the public Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm.

Exhibition Essay: Gamilaraay/Wailwan/Biripi artist, activist and academic, r e a explores Karla Dickens’ Return to Sender. Read full essay online here.

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