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Exploring the power of glass

Yhonnie Scarce

Bachelor of Visual Art Glass with Honours
Australian contemporary artist: This is no fantasy

Yhonnie Scarce is one of the first contemporary Australian artists to explore both the activist and the aesthetic power of glass. Born in Woomera, Yhonnie is a descendant of the Kokatha people from the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre region and the Nukunu language group from the Port Augusta area. Through artwork that she describes as ‘politically motivated and emotionally driven,’ Yhonnie explores the historical and ongoing treatment of Aboriginal Australians. As seen in a diverse range of glass-based installations, Yhonnie particularly seeks to examine the on-going effects of colonisation on Aboriginal people, the impact of the removal and relocation of Aboriginal people from their homelands and the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

Yhonnie Scarce, Thunder Raining Poison, Installation view Art Gallery of South Australia,Hand blown glass yams, steel armature and nylon, Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Image credit:  Janelle Low

Yhonnie Scarce, Thunder Raining Poison Installation view Art Gallery of South Australia. Hand blown glass yams, steel armature and nylon
Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery. Image credit: Janelle Low

In 2003, the University of South Australia awarded Yhonnie a scholarship for Indigenous achievers. She has been a highly successful ambassador for the University, having exhibited at the Harvard Art Museum, Massachusetts in 2016, as part of the Tarnanthi Festival at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2015, the 19th Biennale of Sydney in 2014 and the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. Most recently, her work Burial Ground was shown alongside Auguste Rodin in the 2017 exhibition Versus Rodin at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Yhonnie’s extraordinary talent shines through her aesthetically stunning pieces. Through her work she expresses a powerful and thought-provoking message.

“Growing up Aboriginal in Australia was tough and is still tough continually fighting for equality,” says Yhonnie.

“As an artist, I have the unique ability to draw attention to historical and current racism in Australia, and my intention is to prompt people to have honest and open conversations about the treatment of Aboriginal people.

“Not enough has been said, and still in this day Aboriginal people are prematurely dying.

“By addressing the problem, we – as Australians – can start to properly heal and mend existing wounds to move forward into a happier future.”

Yhonnie’s pieces reflect the overall issues facing Aboriginal people, which are derived from historic research, oral history, current political messages and actions, and from her personal experiences.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

Yhonnie Scarce, Art Basel Hong Kong 2014. Installation View. Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery

“As well as this, in the Aboriginal community we believe our country has memory. I visited Woomera last year and was receptive to the energy given from the land, which I have portrayed through my work.

Yhonnie’s unique talent was recognised early. While studying a Bachelor of Visual Art at UniSA, she was the recipient of the Irene and David Davy Scholarship.

“The scholarship really helped me with my studies in many ways. One is that glass can be expensive, so the funding allowed me to purchase materials to explore this medium and improve my skills. The other is that it helped me establish myself in this competitive industry when I was first starting out.”

“At the outset, Yhonnie impressed with her quiet determination to succeed and we have followed her career with great pride since that time, revelling in her achievements,” says Margaret Davy, Trustee of the Irene and David Davy Scholarship.

“The aims of the scholarship are to help support our scholars in their first degree - and equally to ask of them to be role models for the next generation of indigenous students to start an academic career. In the last 17 years, all of "our" scholars have graduated and the majority have gone on to further successes in their chosen fields. We are so proud to number Yhonnie "one of ours" and bask in her reflected successes.”

When Yhonnie looks back on her time studying at UniSA, she believes those four years were the best and happiest time of her life.

“Those years changed my life.

“I am forever grateful for Gabriella Bisetto, she is the head of the glass studio at UniSA and is an amazing and supportive person, and I am proud to call her my friend.”

Yhonnie Scarce, Only a Mother Could Love Them, Detail View, Hand blown glass bush plums, Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Image credit: Janelle Low

Yhonnie Scarce, Only a Mother Could Love Them
Detail View, Hand blown glass bush plums
Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery. Image credit: Janelle Low

Yhonnie’s career is continuing to thrive. She is internationally recognised as a leading Australian contemporary artist and her work is exhibited all over the world. The exhibitions she is most proud of are the Harvard Art Museum, Venice Biennale, and Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary and Torres Strait Islander Art.

“I have been so fortunate in my career as an artist. Through my work, I have travelled places that I never could have imagined. I’ve been to New York four times and to Europe multiple times.”

She believes her success is due to her consistent hard work, determination, considers herself extremely lucky.

“I have been working as an artist professionally for 12 years, and believe artists in Australia, and around the world, are some of the hardest working people – it is not an easy industry!”

Her advice to recent graduates and hopeful professional artists is to work hard, don’t give up, be grateful, leave your ego behind, and continue to be humble.

“Humility will get you far in this industry as well as in life.”

When Yhonnie first graduated she kept a two year plan. However, having achieving great success she is now at the stage where she would prefer to just continue what she is doing, while living happily and healthily.

Despite her global success, Yhonnie chooses to live in both Melbourne and Adelaide, and continually ‘comes home’ to create her remarkable glass pieces at the JamFactory.

“The JamFactory feels like home to me. Aside from the logistical benefit of the workshop being available seven days a week, I prefer creating glass pieces there as the crew are amazing, I feel inspired and excited in the space, and I am more productive.

“Ultimately, I hope my work is able to leave a legacy and create opportunities.”

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