Indigenous artist Andrea Fisher's reflection of colonial Australia

Ronnie Girdham The Sunday Mail (Qld) June 27, 2010

Andre a Fisher may have titled her new exhibition Shackles but it was with a sense of history, rather than bitterness, she chose that name.

Her shackles are handcrafted, representing colonial Australia, when her female forebears were domestic slaves for a landowner and the men unpaid stockmen on the sprawling properties. Metaphorically chained to white culture, not physically, she said.

That's the history of the arrangements made between the original Australians and those newcomers who arrived on ships and Fisher, an indigenous Australian raised in Brisbane, says she'd rather celebrate and applaud the tenacity of her ancestors.

"I think my generation want to connect with that culture and keep it alive. We want to celebrate the past and the future," said Fisher, now 29.

Fisher is a graduate of the Queensland College or Art and majored in contemporary indigenous art. She's finishing a primary school teacher's training degree and in between time spent six months working in her suburban home studio on Shackles.

The shackles and breastplates in the exhibition are handcrafted from brass for its malleability.

"I start with a sheet and draw a 2D outline of the shape and etch the text into it with Letraset, then I carve it with a handsaw," she said.

"Next I bend it around a mandrill with a torch. The shackles themselves are made out of bullet casings I sourced at a shooting range. That fits in perfectly."

It's a long, tedious process and Fisher sees it as connecting with the culture.

"Our culture is evolving, we're keeping it alive and it's changing and the future lies in education."

Fisher has been teaching this month with children in grades two and three at the Murri School in Acacia Ridge. She's also a member of proppaNOW, a collective of urban indigenous artists who work together, tossing around ideas and exploring contemporary issues that can be expressed through art.

When she's not wrestling with brass sheeting, she draws figurative etches.

While the shackles are rather foreboding, they're not without ironic humour. The texts read, variously, Bigger Than Bling Bling, Love Hate, Always Plotting, My Hands Are Tied and Stand Up and Fight. One reads Which Way? It's indigenous lingo which loosely translates to "How's it going?"

The breastplates are made as symbolic, not to be worn. "They're to be hung," she said.

Using synthetic polymer paint, the text on some show her sense of humour. Matching ones are emblazoned, one with the word Sista and the other Brotha. Another reads simply Home on a map of Australia; a crucifix is carved into another; an arrow pointing both ways suggests it's up to the viewer to decide which road in life he takes, while another could represent butterfly wings.

"I bought the chains for the breastplates at antique shops – that seemed historically fitting, too."

Fisher is a keen follower of netball and played at representative level. She said her family around Rockhampton are all athletic and without any grand name-dropping, she mentioned a second cousin who has also represented Australia – Cathy Freeman.

Fisher is also about to embark on a program to earn her ticket for umpiring the sport and is excited that it is attracting more attention.

Art started when she was young.

"My father is Murri and my mother white and it was Dad who triggered my early interest in art," she said. "I have early memories of us having drawing competitions. We'd decide on a subject – like a horse or a man in the bush – and we'd both draw it.

"I've kept in contact with lots of visits to our people in Rocky, Woorabinda and Cherbourg. Dad has very strong family connections."

Fisher has fashioned 14 shackles, each with an $800 price tag, 14 breastplates ($600) and 14 photographs, which each accompany a shackle and cost $850. They are framed and measure 1m by 74cm.

This is Fisher's first solo commercial exhibition after one at the Museum of Brisbane last year ...