Review: ‘Morphed’ by Emma Davies at Craft Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 19th June – 25th July 2009


Emma Davies. 'Sekai' (be humorous') 2009


Emma Davies (Australian)
Sekai (meaning ‘be humorous’)


Emma Davies. 'Tariro' (means 'hope') 2009


Emma Davies (Australian)
Tariro (meaning ‘hope’)


'Rutendo' (detail - means 'faith') 2009


Emma Davies (Australian)
Rutendo (detail – meaning ‘faith’)



A stimulating exhibition by Emma Davies at Craft Victoria of polypropylene industrial netting and packaging that has been heated, moulded, sculpted and literally morphed into these fantastical sculptures, inspired by the artist’s experiences when visiting Johannesburg in South Africa as part of the South Project. Davies evokes the mysterious and the bizarre in her figures, making the commonplace into something uncommon, taking her themes from the relics of bush medicine present in the street markets: the medicine market of Johannesburg full of dried animal bones, skulls, skins and bottles of alchemistic objects.

Despite their comforting South African names (translated into English as ‘hope’, ‘faith’, ‘quiet, tranquil’, ‘lady’, ‘chief’, ‘prince’ for example) these extremely individual figurative ‘presences’ have a powerful melancholic affect on the viewer. Their elongated long legged and armed, no necked forms create dark eyeless creatures that crouch in rusted boxes or sit on wooden posts with their legs and arms hanging, folded. They seem lonely and sad despite their titles, perhaps reflecting the harsh realities of a life of poverty on the streets of Soweto.

Two figures on wooden blocks seem to walk aimlessly, placed on large rough industrial tables with huge wheels while another figure sits up a rusted ladder propped against the wall. A group of figures are clustered together on top of large wooden posts of different heights, some with arms round each other for comfort, others with black or red feathers sprouting from shoulders, legs or wearing a red feathered skirt. These creatures create a marvellous group of contemplative wandering minstrels while behind them their eerie shadows fall on the gallery wall.

The crystalline nature to the surface of the creatures, like sparkling coal, reminds me of the work of William Kentridge, his white industrial protagonist Felix haunted by images of black workers deep underground mining coal (see Mine (1991) where his coffee plunger goes down into the ground through the bodies of black people). Some of the figures bat like ears also bring to mind the work of Francisco de Goya and specifically his work Los Caprichos (The Whims), plate 43 from the series of 80 etchings published in 1799 titled The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters. The artist described the collection as an exposé of “the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilised society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual.”

As Goya began to sympathise with the suffering of the peasants so Davies seems to have been transformed by what she saw around her during her visit, trying to make sense of a foreign culture, dreaming the sleep of reason but surrounded and invaded by a world in which the natural and unnatural has fused and morphed.

I really liked this exhibition and the presence of these figures. I am obviously not alone as the show is almost sold out. A visit to these disturbing, enfolding creatures is recommended.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

All photographs courtesy of Craft Victoria (thankyou Amy Brand!) and taken by their photographer Alexia Skok.


Francisco de Goya. 'Los Caprichos', plate 43 from the series 'El sueño de la razón produce monstros' 1799


Francisco de Goya (Spanish, 1746-1828)
Los Caprichos plate 43 from the series El sueño de la razón produce monstros
Etching and aquatint
Height: 21.3 cm (8.3″)
Width: 15.1 cm (5.9″)
Museo del Prado, Madrid


Emma Davies. 'Zola' (detail - means 'quiet, tranquil') 2009


Emma Davies (Australian)
Zola (detail – meaning ‘quiet, tranquil’)




Emma Davies (Australian)
Group with from left to right: Enitan (person of story), Ntombi (lady), Kgosi (chief), Nkosana (prince), Lucky and Alaba (second child after twins)


Emma Davies. 'Nkosana' (detail - means 'prince') 2009


Emma Davies (Australian)
Nkosana (detail – meaning ‘prince’)



Craft Victoria
Watson Place, off Flinders Lane,
Melbourne 3000
Phone: 03 9650 7775

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 11am – 6pm
Saturday 11am – 4pm

Craft Victoria website

Emma Davies website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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