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Australian art

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The unforeseen



Narelle Jubelin

Spain, Australia

1960 -


Narelle Jubelin’s detailed and intricate petit-point embroideries fascinate due to their conceptual references and the range of connections they evoke, their existence as both objects and images, and the demonstrable skill and time required to make them. Her choice of a traditionally feminine and time-consuming craft to create small-scale images and her use of old, found frames carved by amateur woodworkers add a sense of vernacular history and suggest a valuing of the domestic and hobbyist over ‘high art’ traditions. These choices were, however, informed by feminist and post-colonial theory and in the 1980s and early 90s her embroideries of trade goods, historical monuments, old photographs, text from books and museum objects asked many questions about colonisation, trade, the circulation of objects and the ascribing of value. More recently Jubelin has referred to more personal narratives which intersect with the history of modernist design and architecture. As always in her work, which is often made for a particular site, the accumulation of images, objects and references sets up unexpected associations and links: ideological, visual, economic, historical.

‘The unforeseen’ was originally exhibited in Australian Perspecta 1989 at the AGNSW. The late 19th- or early 20th-century frame is shaped like an eye. The ‘white’ is a pearl lacquer panel resembling nail varnish while the ‘pupil’ is a petit-point of a male figure about to enter a cave or mine, a prospector searching for minerals. At this time Jubelin had created a series of petit-points of monuments to male enterprise and exploration. With their links to colonisation and exploitation, such monuments remember only men, devaluing women’s achievements and contributing to a history where women are invisible. Male endeavour in ‘The unforeseen’ is engaged in seeking wealth from the earth. But as the title implies, there is also risk, danger and the uncertainty of finding what is being sought.

‘The unforeseen’ echoes the viewer’s eye as it regards us while we gaze at it. This mirroring effect is in keeping with various theories about psychoanalytical identification with the gaze and its role in how we develop and experience our sense of self and others, and in how we identify with visual culture, as propounded by Jacques Lacan, Laura Mulvey and other influential writers. The cave shape is also vaginal in form, which adds to the sense of unconscious motivations and sexual currents in looking at the male adventurer poised to enter this eye/cave. What is perhaps also unforeseen by the male figure entering the cave is the fact that this enterprise could be turned into petit-point, reinscribing epic masculine narrative within a miniaturised, sexualised feminine framework.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006




Media category

Mixed media painting

Materials used

petit point, lacquered inset in carved wood frame


27.0 cm image (diam.); 68.0 x 110.5 x 3.0 cm frame (irreg.)

Signature & date

Signed and dated c. verso frame, incised "Narelle Jubelin 1989".


Purchased 1990


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Narelle Jubelin

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 6 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Dead Sun, Sydney, 1997.

Anthony Bond and Victoria Lynn (Curators), Australian Perspecta 1989, Sydney, 1989, 52 (colour illus.), 53.

Deborah Edwards, Daphne Wallace, Margo Neale, Victoria Lynn and Sandra Byron, Review: works by women from the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, "Women Artists in the Contemporary Collection", Victoria Lynn, p13-15, Sydney, 1995, 14, 21.

Ross Mellick and Nick Waterlow, Spirit and place: Art in Australia 1861-1996, Sydney, Nov 1996, 67 (illus.), 147.

Mori Gallery, Mori Gallery, Art Frankfurt 1990, 1990, 17 (illus.).

Wayne Tunnicliffe, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Cultural memory, critical distance', pg.154-203, Sydney, 2006, 176, 177 (colour illus.).