yellow stars on the chest
discarded objects of the desperate
~ Jessica L Wilkinson, from 'I Remember Only Scenes’
In 2021, I was invited (as editor of Rabbit: a journal for nonfiction poetry) by Heide Museum of Modern Art to curate a reading and Q&A series with women/non-binary poets; they would write poems in response to the ‘House of Ideas: Modern Women’ exhibition that ran during 2021. I published the resulting poems in a special limited edition Rabbit publication. During this project, I became enamoured with Mirka Mora’s artworks—I was especially drawn to one of her ‘soft sculptures’, an homage to Charles Blackman’s school girl paintings. My obsession grew from there. Mirka’s vast artistic output also included paintings, drawings, mosaic and writing. These works are bright and joyful, reflecting a personality—no doubt impacted by the trauma of her childhood (escaping Nazi internment camps)—that was intent to bring love and delight to the artistic and broader community.
Mirka (b. 1928, Paris) moved to Melbourne with her husband Georges in 1951, where they set up French restaurants and cafés, as well as art galleries, all of which became the most popular bohemian hubs for local and visiting artists of the mid-century. Her career as an artist flourished in Australia, and her art adorns the walls and streets of numerous Melbourne locations. She was also a very generous woman, supporting and promoting the careers of numerous artists, and bringing non-artistic communities together (especially groups of children and women) through doll-making workshops. As I read more about her irreverence, humour and love of art, food, conversation and bringing people together, my attraction to her grows and grows.
This intensity of interest in a character has always led me to undertake deep research (wide reading, archives, sites, interviews) and to develop a biography in poems. My intention is always to find a way to communicate the life in a way that is befitting the subject, beyond the narrativising of facts and information. With this new work on Mirka, I intend to ‘meet’ her innovations and generosity through the form of the life-writing itself, bringing new attention and interest to this important Australian artist.