I wondered what it would be like seeing Mona Ryders visceral exhibition without the benefit of any real context. Would that be a little like traversing a minefield without a guide? Or is a viewer enriched having a navigation device, a prior understanding of this kind of art?

Seeing Ryder’s art for the first time, a keen film-buff — and non-art professional — friend said this:

‘I was mesmerised by her turning upside down domesticity and my feeling of discomfort. My favourites were the ironing boards’.

These words pick up on some keys to Ryder’s art including personal narratives, domestic objects and upcycled materials and her strategy of questioning gender roles. Was it a disadvantage that my friend didn’t know the artist’s work? ‘

No. I love being surprised.’


‘Minefield: The Art of Mona Ryder’ explores diverse works created over more than four decades, presenting prints created in the late 1970s, relics remaining from a major installation of the 1980s, watercolours, paintings, textiles and embroideries, artist’s books, and new works, all charting an extraordinary energy unrestrained by medium. Recurring themes include feminism, the colour red (blood), love and sex. Notably, we see a lot of mussel shells, saved and repurposed following meals with family and friends.


While it’s possible to appreciate Ryder’s exhibition ‘cold’, we viewers are more likely to come away richer if the work is contextualised — at least in a basic way. Like most contemporary artwork, Ryder’s art is anchored in several decades of previous practice and research, her own and artists of similar ilk.

The other week a UK friend reminded me of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s (1930– 2017) big retro exhibition currently on at the Tate Modern. (She’s famous for large-scale, free-hanging and improvised sculptures of woven fibre.) Given the impact Abakanowicz had on many artists since the late 60s, I wondered if she’d had any influence on Ryder’s practice.

‘I’m not sure when I first saw Magdalena’s work in books, I think it was in the late 80s’, was Ryder’s response. ‘I loved the gutsiness of the work as well as their size . . . She was not frightened to fill large spaces with materials that were considered craft in Australia. There could be no dispute that this was art.’

I asked if she’d been affected by other female artists.

‘Louise Bourgeois, Annette Messager and Doris Salcedo all reinforced the way I was thinking. These artists excited and bolstered me . . . They didn’t restrict themselves or the materials they used . . .’

Both Bourgeois (1911–2010) and Messager (b.1943) pushed boundaries using drawing, painting and textiles with sculpture and installation, and Salcedo (b.1958) created works using items such as wooden furniture, clothing, concrete, grass, and rose petals.


Ryder went on:

‘As part of an Arts Queensland grant I visited Singapore where I was included in an exhibition at Nanyang University. My installation hung eight metres to the ground with stockings dyed red and inserted with colanders, and lead sinkers. Messager’s work was at Documenta the same year [2002] and I felt there was a similarity to my work . . .’

I asked Ryder about other influences.

‘In the 1980s, as part of my studies, I devoured books from the library. I started to get to know artists I hadn’t heard of before — Georgia O’Keeffe, Meret Oppenheim, Rebecca Horn (Margaret Lock, my lecturer in printmaking, alerted me to her when I was doing my Associate Diploma), William Blake, Gaudi, Ernst Haeckel, and so many more.’

‘In 1985 I had an Australia Council residency in Vence, France. There were supposed to be artists from different countries at the foundation but in fact most of them were writers from New York. I loved being with the writers — I could identify with them. When I showed my work they said there were similarities to Frida Kahlo who I’d not previously heard of. When I arrived back home a book on Kahlo arrived.’ 

Almost as an afterthought, I asked Ryder why ‘Minefield’?

‘It is my field of my work and my minefield — and there have been many throughout my career.’

Minefield: The Art of Mona Ryder’ is at QUT Art Museum until 26 February 2023.



For those who want more about Mona Ryder there’s a whole collection of critical essays called ‘Writing Mona Ryder’ exploring her forty-plus years of creative practice: https://www.monaryder.com/writingmonaryder


Lead banner image: Mona Ryder. Photo: Richard Neylan Nolan

Art images, 1 to 7: installation views of ‘Minefield: The Art of Mona Ryder’, QUT Art Museum, 2022. Photos: courtesy Louis Lim.