We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of New South Wales stands.

Karla Dickens

A person with brown wavy hair sits leaning on a large inscribed circular object. Behind them a colour artwork hangs on a wall.

Karla Dickens, photo: Natalie Grono

To see or not to see

The work of cross-cultural Wiradjuri woman Karla Dickens is an unflinching interrogation of post-contact Aboriginal experiences and the continuing legacies of colonialism and patriarchy. Depicting hooded figures, To see or not to see is a panel made of glass and various metals, installed above the doorway of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ historic South Building.

Dickens has used materials that nod to the nearby bronze panels on the building, to the rusty metal of Sydney humpy towns – once home to so many First Nations people, including Dickens’ grandmother – and to the clear blue-green of the harbour’s life-sustaining waters.

The imagery derives from hoods she first made from raw calico, and from vintage tea towels of the type her grandmother might have used. In Dickens’ hands, the hoods become potent symbols of the violent silencing and enforced control that are part of the legacy left to Aboriginal women today.

From her home in Bundjalung Country (Lismore, NSW), Dickens works towards healing and change through truth-telling. She reminds us that, under the cover of these hoods, ‘the hooded are still bearing witness’.

On display:
South Building, portico

Part of an ornate sandstone building with a panel featuring hooded heads

Installation view of Karla Dickens To see or not to see 2022, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Karla Dickens / Copyright Agency

Part of an ornate sandstone building with a panel featuring hooded heads

Installation view of Karla Dickens To see or not to see 2022, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Karla Dickens / Copyright Agency

A sandstone building with Art Gallery of New South Wales written at the front above columns, and a panel featuring hooded heads above the door

Installation view of Karla Dickens To see or not to see 2022, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Karla Dickens / Copyright Agency