The question of identity is an important one for artist Liam Benson. Known for his self-reflexive textiles, photographic portraiture and video, his latest exhibition welcomes the efforts and perspectives of others with a large triptych of embroideries created with community groups alongside a series of solo hand-made works.
It is a critical new stage for Benson, the triptych is a product of four years of collaboration that began in 2013 and this show at Artereal Gallery offers a previously unexplored platform to outside opinions. That being said the project is anchored in the artist’s interest in Australian identity. He confirmed “I was wanting to open up the dialogue that was already within my work and include the diverse voices that I have been thinking about – who is a part of this conversation? It was the people around me in Western Sydney, having lunch in the park with me, attending community events.”
Relationships are key to Benson’s empathetic practice, the importance and inspiration of which have developed gradually overtime as an artist educator. Since 2010 Benson has led workshops for children, worked with special needs and diverse communities. One program in particular introduced him to WeAve Parramatta, “I met all these women from different cultural backgrounds. Connecting with this community was a light bulb moment, I realised the future of what I was trying to do in my work was going to be through interaction and nurturing relationships and conversations.”
It is the exchange from these workshops that Benson is unpicking in the construction of delicate sequin and bead embroidered pieces. Engaging in the collective practice of needlework and embroidery with community groups, he places ‘the identity conversation’ in the feminine sphere. “I am really proud and am glad to be nurturing the feminine culture that I connect to and my femininity, I wanted to work with those mediums because I feel like I am paying homage, and honouring that when I am sewing and embroidering and making beautiful, tactile things.” By doing so the works join the historical legacy of Australian craft and needlework and the cultural identity they represent, powerful demonstrations of how meaning is articulated through objects – however unassuming they might appear.
There is a careful tension within the selected text in the works, with Benson sewing words that are loaded with symbolism and cultural connotations. The inspiration of the embroidered text hoop works draw from Benson’s family shields, as Benson outlines, “My clan motto on my grandfather’s side is Latin for “fortitude”, and my grandmother’s is “virtue without a stain”. I have had those clan motives around me my whole life, they were echoing a strength and focus all these years. These are like little shields with the new motivations and examples of what I am working towards and what I am thinking and feeling about.”
Whilst bright, decorative and playful, Benson’s poetic works question Australian identity and what constitutes it in an understated way. The delicate, ornate embroidery creates a space of familiarity as a medium that is shared across cultures. Just as welcoming as the title, these new works and the community triptychs are an open invitation for audience, artist and community to join in the conversation of what it means to be Australian.
Lucy Stranger is a Sydney-based arts writer and curator.
4 to 28 October, 2017