College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

10 June 2020

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A message without words

A powerful drawing, titled For the Drowned, has earned JCU Arts Honours Alumni Fiona Currey-Billyard a place in the revived Dobell Drawing Prize finals. Conveying a message without words is a key reason Fiona loves art and her submission undoubtedly has a lot to say.

For the Drowned is a single line for each person who has drowned seeking asylum in Australia,” Fiona says. “It is 1917 lines, really thin lines, across a big piece of paper. I chose to do it because I was angry about the idea of seeking asylum becoming such a horrible thing in this country and I wanted it to be a landscape, hence the size. It’s 2.75 metres long and 2.2 metres deep.”

The image is striking, but the depth behind the lines is where the true power of such a simple concept comes from.

“I wanted it to be beautiful and horrifying at the same time, which it is,” Fiona says. “It looks like a sea-scape because of those very thin lines.

“When you go through the data of the people who have drowned, they put them in categories based on when the sex is known. I used different grades of pencils for each group and it’s in chronological order, so it’s graded as well in this sort of weird way.”

Despite her passion being in public art, Fiona specifically drew For the Drowned for the Dobell Prize, a contest she wanted to enter before it went on hiatus after 2012.

“I’d been talking about doing a body of work on drownings of asylum seekers, and the Dobell came up,” she says.

Dobell Drawing Prize 2019 at NAS Gallery. Image courtesy of ArtsHub
Asylum Seeker mistreatment protest in Brisbane
Fiona Currey-Billyard's artwork in the Dobell Drawing Prize 2019 at NAS Gallery (photo: ArtsHub)

Using her platform for political rights

“It had always been something I’d wanted to enter because when I was studying the Dobell was huge. They then of course stopped it and I found out that they started it up again and I thought I’d really like to do a drawing that is political and large.”

Fiona ticked those boxes, and she believes art can be a powerful platform to convey political and human rights messages.

“In my personal work I want people to look at it and go, ‘I know where she’s coming from’,” Fiona says.

“There are other things that I want to do, works that are related to this and extending a body of work related to what I am talking about. Winning the Dobell Prize might mean that I’d get a chance to do that.”

The ability to analyse as much as show the tragedy of asylum seekers who drowned coming to Australia stems from Fiona’s drawing style.

“The way that I draw is very different; I sort of do it for information. I don’t undertake a drawing to do a complete work,” she says.

“I take notes or it will be preliminary stuff for another idea. The thing about drawing is that it’s a good way of getting information and your ideas down, and if something comes from that then so be it, but I don’t specifically just draw.”

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