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Contemporary art

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art

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Caged Cage, from the series A Dickensian Circus



Karla Dickens


1967 -

Language group

Wiradjuri, Southern Riverine region


Using found objects imbued with memories of their past lives, Karla Dickens creates assemblages that tell the history of circus and boxing-tent performers. The works serve as memorials, paying homage to performers who travelled Australia and indeed the world, notably “The Wizard of the Wire” Con Colleano, who performed until the 1960’s, and who was born in Lismore, where Dickens lives.
Performers such as Con, amongst many other comedians, singers, boxers, and dancers would lie about their Indigenous heritage and perform under constructed identities, such as Italian, Polynesian, Hawaiian or Spanish. At the time it was more acceptable to go under the radar and hide Indigenous Australian ancestry. The difficulty of these times and the uncomfortable spectacle made of the performers’ humanity is referenced in Dickens’ work.
Pound for Pound #6 is a cast of a boxing glove on the end of a sickle with a silver ‘returning’ boomerang, rusted chains and leather skirting the glove. Dickens’ intention here is to reference stolen lands for settler farming practices, through the use of the sickle. The silver boomerang is in conversation with the silver boxing glove, if it isn’t a war fought to keep land and culture, it is a fight in a boxing ring to make a dollar. The fighting didn’t stop, it just changed form. Defiantly the gloves stand skyward, the celebratory position of a victorious fighter.
Dickens’ perspective of these histories leaves us with an unsettling feeling of being a player in her world. She creates an immersive and sensory experience that is haunting, with whispers from the past that speak to us today. She forces us as to look at our history and feel the lack of human integrity that was afforded to these performers and is still present in different forms today.




Media category


Materials used

vintage bird cages, aluminium, taxidermied budgie, paper mâché, wood, synthetic fabric, acrylic paint


171.0 x 62.0 x 62.0 cm


Purchased with funds provided by Wendy Whiteley and the Aboriginal Collection Benefactors' Group 2020


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Karla Dickens

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history