I Shed My Skin, A Furneaux Islands Story

Jane Giblin. Frank Willis ink and pigment on Canson aquarello, on canvas on stretcher, 150cmx91cm, 2018 (cropped)

This exhibition is now closed.

Displayed at the Queen Victoria Art Gallery from 9 March to 7 July 2019.

I Shed My Skin is instigated by family history. Jane is the Great Granddaughter of Valentine and Olive Willis. Valentine Willis was an 11 year old boy in 1905, who, convicted of larceny in Launceston, was fostered to a very Victorian, yet loving couple on Puncheon Island not long afterwards. Nothing is known about Valentine’s parentage or early childhood. He, and his wife, raised 9 children between Cape Barren Island and Flinders Island. The last remaining of the 9 children passed away in July 2017 at the age of, very almost 99. This generation produced 35 cousins. Many of the remaining generations of Flinders Islanders live between Launceston and Flinders Island, working their farms and, continuing their fishing and birding traditions. There are plenty of descendants spread up and down the coast of Australia. Over 100 years and 5 generations of one family and their vast community connections, and associated farming, fishing and mutton birding activities provide the background to I Shed My Skin.

Big Dog Island, in Franklin Sound, where Valentine and Olive built their birding sheds, was the site of the annual industry that typified their island life. Now it is the rightful property of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania. Those who were once employed by Jane's family, now manage their own land and birding industry. Some younger members of the Willis family are continuing the island birding industry through new alliances, formed through marriage.

Audiences will increase their understanding of changing cultural histories and relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous families, their farming, fishing and mutton birding lives in the Furneaux Islands through this exhibition. This unique tale of family work and complex isolation is a microcosm of Tasmanian identity that the artist has drawn out and will share in the public realm.

The artworks are all new, made specifically for this exhibition. They comprise of 41 large ink and pigment works on paper, 34 lithographs and 20 medium format black and white analogue photography and an artist’s book. The artist worked in collaboration with poet Pete Hay. Pete has produced poetry and prose in response to Jane's conversations with her family and some of the Flinders community, the works of art and the landscape of the Furneaux Islands itself. His poetry forms part of the artist’s book.

Pete has also produced an essay for the catalogue.

This exhibition is an exploration of Jane's family history and the cultural and working lives of the inhabitants of Flinders Island. Jane seeks to understand the dynamics of geographic isolation and how it can influence family relationships and how it encourages traditions associated with survival and environment. This is also characterised by the changing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Tasmanians and the difficulties associated with possession and dispossession.

An abridged form of this exhibition debuted at the Furneaux Museum, on Flinders Island, in January as part of the Flinders Island Festival.

Image detail: Jane Giblin. Frank Willis ink and pigment on Canson aquarello, on canvas on stretcher, 150cm x 91cm 2018