Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2008
shell, glitter, fabric, cardboard and glue
5 × 9.5 × 6cm
Constructed from mixed media and adorned with shells, these tiny slippers exemplify traditional Indigenous craft practices of La Perouse, a headland on the shores of Botany Bay with a large Aboriginal population. They form a memorial to the Stolen Generations − Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families and communities by government edict throughout the greater part of the twentieth century. Through their silence, emptiness and sense of expectancy, these shoes bear witness to the children’s absence.
Shellworked slippers (2008) is an important work by Esme Timbery that was commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre for exhibition Ngadhu, Ngulili, Ngeaninyagu – A Personal History of Aboriginal Art in the Premier State, 2008 (curated by Djon Mundine). The exhibition was important for being the first comprehensive survey of works by Aboriginal artists from New South Wales. It linked key practitioners across time and location; from Mickey of Ulladulla, to Badger Bates in far west New South Wales, to the Timbery family whose traditional lands run along the east coast from La Perouse to Jervis Bay.
Timbery’s work takes on a political manifestation and signifies a tradition and its continuation. It is a statement of ownership as the shells are from the coastal waters of the Timbery mob. The 200 slippers talk of the dispossession of Aboriginal people, not just of the land but of their way of life and, within real and living memory, of the stolen generations of children. The slippers are a reminder of social trauma, the trauma of dispossession and disempowerment but they are also an affirmation of a community that has survived, of its strength and of the warmth of the family and the community as a whole.