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Creating Continuing Culture during COVID-19 - Janet Fieldhouse

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Torres Strait Islander artist Janet Fieldhouse expanded her skillset and found new ways to work and learn as an artist.



Cairns-based ceramics artist Janet Fieldhouse began the year with the aim of producing a series of new works reflecting ideas, interactions and stories from her Torres Strait Islander heritage and culture – particularly women’s traditional practices. These were to feature across three major exhibitions at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, Cairns Art Gallery and the Melbourne Art Fair. 

The introduction of COVID-19 restrictions and its impacts across Australia meant the postponement of these exhibitions and limited availability of art materials/resources. As a result, Janet was forced to rethink her plans for the works, find new ways of learning and restructure her approach to practising her art in general.

In spite of these challenges, Janet managed to expand her skills as an artist, further develop her professional relationships, and produce new bodies of work, to connect with audiences and create further awareness and understanding of her Torres Strait Islander culture.



When and where

Original dates: November 2019 to July 2020

Revised dates:Brisbane (Institute of Modern Art) 5 September to 19 December 2020 as part of long water fibre stories curated by Freja Carmichael

Cairns Art Gallery, 2021

Melbourne Art Fair - 2021 



$10,000 – Individuals Fund in August 2019. Arts Queensland supports individual artists and cultural workers to participate in transformational professional and career development opportunities.



  • Due to the increased number of negotiations and meetings required to reschedule exhibitions, Janet developed stronger professional relationships with gallery curators and directors across several national institutions where her work will be shown.
  • Janet also expanded her skills as an artist; she ventured into an entirely new medium, learning traditional weaving techniques to incorporate into her ceramic works.
  • Using her new skills, Janet created new works to showcase in the exhibitions, connecting her to new audiences and markets across Australia, enhancing her reputation as an artist and generating further awareness around her Torres Strait Islander culture, traditions and art.

“The project, and production of new work for the long water [exhibition] at IMA in particular, enabled me to learn and enhance my weaving skills. As a ceramicist utilising clay and porcelain, my work has often referenced the weaving, and woven objects of the Torres Strait Islands and I have often used found materials, and existing weavings in my works. I was conscious that all the other invited artists in this exhibition are known weavers, and this time, I was able to learn and practice weaving so that the woven elements in my work were my own. Although not my specialty, I was able to develop this skill to a high standard.”

“I was able to produce new, and in some cases experimental, bodies of work. Although each body of work is separate, they build upon each other, like intertwined chapters of a story.”



Learnings and reflections 

Producing new art and preparing for exhibitions while under COVID-19 restrictions, Janet found new ways to work and learn as an artist.

“Although challenging, the making and learning in isolation also helped me to be more self-reliant, and flexible in my approach to my practice, which has helped me grow as an artist.”

“The restrictions also meant that access to some materials changed (such as being able to easily get specialist porcelain from overseas), so I had to rethink how to convey the same story through different mediums from those I had originally envisaged.”

She also reflected that she was proud she had managed to expand her skillset and incorporate this new artform into her work while in isolation.

“Recognising that I am a ceramicist branching out into a new medium, I was really happy with how I managed to solve problems in weaving, and balance the weaving with ceramics. However it was daunting, because I was learning the weaving techniques in isolation - eg. I couldn't go to community and get guidance.”

“I was able to experiment both with new techniques, such as weaving, and was also able to explore new ideas relating to my Torres Strait Islander heritage, and conceptualise new ways of expressing them. The new weaving techniques also allowed me to create works that did not rely on my ceramic skills to tell my stories.”

Janet also found she had to reallocate how her budget would be used to cope with rescheduled exhibitions and changed timelines 

“Overall there was less spent on materials as I was not able to obtain specialist porcelain from overseas, and cataloguing and documentation of the artworks was done by me alone (with professional images for records now to be taken by the institutions during the exhibition). The delays and postponements meant that the project timeline was extended,.”


Tips for others

“I was not able to use the kiln (located at a public school) whenever I wanted, which caused me to rethink the relationship between me as an artist and my studio as to when to make the work, and changed my approach to timing etc. This caused me to be more structured in my practice because that fluidity had gone eg. I couldn't just go to the school when I wanted, it had to be pre-planned.”



What next?

The Institute of Modern Art is showing her work as part of the long water exhibition until 19 December 2020, which will then tour to the Torres Strait's Gab Titui and NorthSite Contemporary Arts in 2021, while the Cairns Arts Gallery and Melbourne Art Fair exhibitions are scheduled to go ahead in 2021. 



Find out more


Institute of Modern Art: