Slavery in Artform

Slavery in Artform
Helen Fraser discovered the use of forced labour in Australia, and protested the act in a quilt.

Helen Fraser was researching indigo cloth and the slave trade in Africa when she saw Tal Fitzpatrick’s call-out for people to stitch articles for her UDHR quilt block project. “As soon as I saw the article on slavery, I thought, this is too uncanny,” she recalls.

Shifting her research to Australia, Fraser discovered blackbirding, the practice of kidnapping Pacific Islanders for forced labour on sugar and cotton plantations. “I think I was in shock for about a week,” says Fraser. “Why is it that I’m a relatively educated white woman in Australia at the age of 47 and I didn’t know about this slave history?”

Fraser documented her research alongside the process of stitching her quilt block on Instagram. “The research revealed very traumatic stories,” she says. “I didn’t want to scare people with the actual trauma, but rather suggest it through the stitching. It has opened up this sense of wanting to use my art to reveal our true history, from a non-indigenous perspective.”

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