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was born in 1962 of Gamilaroi and Wailwan peoples in Coonabarabran, New
South Wales. She initially studied Electrical Trades at Petersham TAFE,
Sydney in 1989. Rea undertook a Visual Arts Diploma at the EORA Centre
at Petersham TAFE in 1990, after which she completed a Bachelor of Fine
Arts (Visual Arts) at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South
Wales, Sydney in 1993. That same year she participated in a number of
group exhibitions including Continuity at The Performance Space, Sydney
and Sayin' Something: Aboriginal Art in New South Wales. Ten Years of
Land Rights in New South Wales at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative,
Sydney, where she also commenced a short-term position as Assistant Curator.
In 1994 Rea's work was exhibited in exhibitions such as Localities of Desire: Contemporary Art in an International World at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Don't Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Blackness: Blak City Culture! at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne and the touring exhibition True Colours: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Artists Raise the Flag. She received a development grant from the Visual Arts and Craft Board of the Australia Council that same year, and commenced a second short-term curatorial position with the Aboriginal Art department at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Rea held her first solo exhibition, Ripped Into Pieces Blak Body at The Performance Space in 1995, and undertook the Torque ARX4 Residency in Perth that same year. She held the solo exhibition EYE/I'MMABLAKPIECE at the Contemporary Arts Centre of South Australia, Adelaide in 1996; the same year she that participated in the 1996 Moët & Chandon Touring Exhibition and Abstracts: New Aboriginalities (which toured the United Kingdom). She was also awarded the Pop, Mass 'n' Sub Cultures residency at The Banff Centre for the Arts, Alberta, Canada. In 1997 Rea received a Visual Arts and Craft Board grant for new work from the Australia Council and was guest curator of Primavera: The Belinda Jackson Exhibition of Young Artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. That same year her work was included in Australian Perspecta 1997 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Telstra 14th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.
In 1998 she exhibited with Brook Andrew in bLAK bABE(z) & kWEER kAT(z) at Gitte Weise Gallery, Sydney as part of the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Her work was also included in the 1998 Moët & Chandon Touring Exhibition and The Fourth National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, Canberra. Rea is currently undertaking a Master of Arts (Visual Arts) at Canberra School of Arts, Australian National University and is a Director on the Board of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative; a position she has held for the last four years.
Artist statement — Rea
Essentially I am a photographer. I create my art by manipulating black and white photographs digitally. The process that I use to create most of my work tends to go something like this …
Firstly, I create my source material. Mostly I use a studio set-up where I take numerous photographs of either objects or the 'blak' body. The 'blak' female body tends to be the subject of most of my work, for example: REA: CODE (1998), EYE/I'MMABLAKPIECE (1996), RIP - Blak Body Series I - VI (1995), Resistance III (1994) and Definitions of Difference I - VI (1994). However, recently I have started to include textures in my work; these are representative of my birth country, Coonabarabran, which is located in the north-west of New South Wales.
The next stage of my work begins when the source material is burnt onto a CD ROM. I then start to use my computer to layer the work, to manipulate it, and to add layers to it (such as text and colour). To achieve this layering effect I use programs such as Adobe Photoshop, QuarkXPress and Adobe Illustrator. My computer is like a canvas, a paintbrush and a paintbox, as it allows me to experiment with form, style and content. I spend hours selecting the image that I am going to work on: I may have an image of the whole body for example, but when I start to play with the image I realise that my idea for the work needs to change, so then I might decide to use just the torso or the legs or the back - it all depends on what I am trying to achieve with each piece of work that I create - it is always different. I then put the finished artwork onto a cartridge and take it to a lab. They create a medium format transparency, another lab then prints the work, and the end result is a digital cibachrome print.
I am inspired by many different artists and art styles, and the works of these black women artists have given me the courage to always ask questions: Lorna Simpson, Adrian Piper, Bell Hooks. I have always loved the work of Albert Namatjira because he painted the land as I understand it. He gave me a strong sense of the importance of place and although I don't literally create landscapes, the sense of what my land means to me, my family and my people (Gamilaroi) always informs each piece of work I create. I have also been inspired by artists such as Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol.
I grew up in the era of kitsch, Elvis, movie stars and red dresses, and my mother painted all her kitchens yellow and purple, so I can't help but relate to wild colours and pop art! Contemporary urban Aboriginal art is the art that I am most passionate about because we have had to fight long and hard to be visible and I am proud that I am part of a movement which continues to interrogate colonial constructs and explore the immense diversity of Aboriginal identities.