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Fiona Foley, Troy Melville

Bliss  2006

single-channel digital video, colour, sound

11minutes 20sec

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2009

2009.16

About the Artwork

Bliss was filmed at an opium farm in Tasmania, the camera slowly panning across an endless field of silvery, shimmering poppies gently moving in the breeze. The quietly contemplative framing is interspersed with text from the 1897 Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act. This legislation, enacted by the Queensland Parliament, had two main aims – to criminalise the supply of opium to Aboriginal people (the principal purveyors of which were considered to be Chinese traders), and to ‘protect’ Aboriginal people from substance addiction by forcing them onto reserves under the guardianship of government-appointed Protectors of Aborigines. The Act controlled the lives of Aboriginal people by significantly restricting their autonomy and freedom to live, work and marry as they chose, and worsened the already troubled relations between white, Asian and Indigenous peoples in Queensland. Fiona Foley has used the 1897 Act and its impact in a number of works, of which Bliss is one.

A sense of opium’s hypnotic effects is suggested by the rustling sounds and movement of poppy heads swaying on their stems, interspersed with short quotes from Dr Rosalind Kidd’s 1997 book The Way We Civilise: Aboriginal Affairs – The Untold Story. This forensic archival study examines the disastrous consequences of benevolently intentioned projects that sought to ‘reform’ Indigenous Australians from 1897 to 1981. Bliss’s vivid and dynamic footage of Tasmanian poppies grown for medical purposes provokes contemplation on the nature of the ‘fix’ that addictive substances offer to individual and social conflicts.

For me, what I like to do is work with this material and put it out in the public arena and say, ‘look at this. How are you engaging with this aspect of our history?’ for a lot of people it is a huge eye-opener. I see my role really as an educator. Every time I insert into the public realm a work that involves a historical context or underpinning, it really is about educating Queenslanders about their own history.

Fiona Foley, n.d.

Fiona Foley

– About the artist

Born 1964, Maryborough, Queensland. Lives and works Brisbane.


Fiona Foley is Badtjala and an influential curator, writer and academic as well as an internationally recognised artist. Foley pursues a diverse artistic practice encompassing painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, mixed-media work, found objects and installation. Foley examines and dismantles historical stereotypes and her works explore a broad range of themes that relate to politics, culture, ownership, language and identity.

From proudly asserting her Badtjala womanhood in 1994 (Badtjala Woman and Native Blood), Foley went on to assume the mantles of peoples from other nations: American Seminole dress in Wild Times Call (1994), a radical inversion of Ku Klux Klan robes in the Hedonistic Honky Haters series (2004), and an Islamic woman’s burqa in Nulla 4 Eva (2009). Her manoeuvres are not only intended to sidestep stereotypes and unsettle expectations of the Aboriginal artist, but also to signal affiliations with international First Nation peoples and their shared concerns.

Foley has been exhibiting since the mid-1980s, and was one of the founding members of the Boomalli Aboriginal Arts Co-operative in 1987. Recent solo exhibitions include Biting the Air, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide (2015); Obsession, Contemporary Art Spaces Tasmania (CAST), Hobart (2013); The Oyster Fishermen, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne (2012); and Circumspect Circumstances, Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane (2010). In 2009–10 the University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane and the MCA, Sydney co-curated a survey exhibition of Foley’s work titled Forbidden.

Recent group shows include Saltwater Country, Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Utrecht, Netherlands and touring (2015); Whisper in My Mask, 2014 TarraWarra Biennial, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria (2014); undisclosed: 2nd National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2012); Vernacular Cultures and Contemporary Art from Australia, India and the Philippines, La Trobe University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2011); and The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age, 17th Biennale of Sydney (2010).

Foley’s major public sculptures include The Edge of Trees, Museum of Sydney, Sydney (1995); The Lie of the Land, Melbourne Museum, Melbourne (1997); Tribute to A’vang, Parliament House, Canberra (2001); Winged Harvest, Australian National University, Canberra (2001); Witnessing to Silence, Brisbane Magistrates Court, Brisbane (2004); Bible and Bullets, Redfern Park, Sydney (2008); Black Opium, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane (2009); and Sugar Cubes, Mackay Regional Council, Mackay (2009).

She has also created site-specific works, including Beyond the Sea for Visualise Carlow, Ireland (2004) and for Out There, with the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, UK (2005). Foley’s work is held in a number of international collections, including in Britain, New Zealand and the USA, and in major state, regional and university collections in Australia.

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– Other works by the artist

Troy Melville

– About the artist
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