Artist Spotlight: Rhonda Sharpe

Born in 1977, Rhonda Sharpe is an Luritja artist who works for the art centre Yarrenyty Arltere in Alice Springs. The centre has a focus on soft sculpture made with recycled blankets coloured with bush dyes. Rhonda’s soft sculpture installation, My selfs with Cowboy 2021, is a presentation of multiple self portraits alongside her partner, the colourful and confident figure of ‘Cowboy’.

Rhonda Sharpe, My Selfs with Cowboy 2021, installation of four stitched woollen sculptures on metal stands using recycled woollen blankets, natural dye, wool, acrylic yarn, size variable, installation:  78 x 185 x 70cm, Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art, The University of Western Australia. Copyright courtesy of the artist and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists. 

Rhonda’s sculpture was a finalist in the 2021 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, for which she wrote this insightful and moving artist statement –

“I don’t have any photos of me from when I was little. I just have what I remember in my memories and from talking to everyone. I remember my mum passing away when I was really young from too much ngula (alcohol). She didn’t even get check up at the hospital. She just died one day. I remember her, she was really nice and pretty with black hair. My mum was still alive when I was a baby but I think I missed her when she was down the creek drinking. So I made this baby crying.

When she passed away I went to live with Dulcie Raggett and her mum Louise, she is my mum’s sister. That’s when I remember getting pretty clothes and bangles and a necklace. We were a good family, really happy. Dulcie used to carry me around on her back and her shoulders. That’s why I made a soft sculpture of me all dressed up nice and waving hello, because I was really happy.

My first meat meat (boyfriend) from school passed away from bad heart. I was really sad. Then I meet my meat meat Riley when he came to stay with family at Kwale Kwale outstation. He was really handsome dressed up all like a cowboy. You can see in this soft sculpture, really good shirt and big hat. I was excited when I first saw him!

I like using my sewing to tell story’s that I cant really tell in other ways. I have so many ideas inside my head and worries too and sewing helps me settle down and get these ideas outside my head. The last soft sculpture is me now. I’m really strong with my arms up holding things that make me happy. My sewing needles and scissors so I can make my art and my rake and broom so I can keep my house clean. I like it when everyone sits around telling stories at my house and asking me about my sewing, what I’m sewing and telling olden day stories, and about country, and laughing. Then I feel really strong and happy.”

Artwork donated to the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art by Sheila Foundation supporters.