Raquel Ormella by Rebecca Coates

Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).

Raquel Ormella is not shy about politics. Her work has consistently taken on the big issues: conservation of Queensland’s wild rivers, ownership of Antarctica, Indigenous land rights, immigration, inequality, political representation and national identity. She often uses the paraphernalia of political activism as her materials— whiteboards, zines, protest banners and flags.

But the combination of politics and materials is unpredictable. High‑vis clothing becomes maps and national symbols. Patchwork becomes a map of Antarctica or an artwork exploring settler economies. Political gestures and speeches become content for hand‑stitched banners. Recycled thread from op shops becomes sloganeered embroidery that reminds us of the artist’s own biography and centrality of her gaze and voice.

For Ormella, the political is personal. Her art reveals the artistic context and framework within which she works—from early twentieth century post‑minimalism, to conceptual art and the use of text. Her techniques make visible the labour required to transform material into art. She draws attention to every tiny stitch, every hour spent on the sewing machine, every burned hole in a polyester flag. This, however, is her language. Her artistic endeavour, if you like, is the desire to create space to reflect on and talk about the uncomfortable truths of our twenty‑first century world.

Australia rising #2 2009 mines the symbols of Australia’s national identity. A quilt cover, bandanas, BBQ aprons, printed tea towels and fragments of fabric depicting the recognisable blue, red and white of Australia’s Union Jack and Southern Cross constellation were stitched together to form a re‑worked whole.

The top half of the over four‑metre wall work spells out ‘CORE PROMISES’. But using traditions of pulled‑thread work, more commonly associated with society ladies with time on their hands, the lower half of the work disappears, as solid fabric becomes thread, hanging down unevenly, just as election campaign announceables dissolve into a scattering of token activities and unfulfilled hopes.

While it would be easy to see her work as protest art, Ormella’s quest is more complex. Her labour‑intensive manufacture points to the depth of passion and frustration among communities who feel their voice is not being heard. She highlights the value of an individual’s time transformed into the intimate world of textiles, contrasting it with the bigger claims of political life and nationalism that all too often fall short.

Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Coates, Rebecca. "Raquel Ormella" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 288–289.

REBECCA COATES is a curator, writer and lecturer and Director, Shepparton Art Museum (SAM).

Raquel Ormella appears in