An island as a concept – Natalie McIlroy


As the curator of Saudade, I am responsible for all the ‘behind the scenes’ administration and organisation, however I am also one of the participating artists. I am so excited to have the opportunity to work directly with an archive. Being given the permission to physically go through archival material is a dream come true for many artists including myself.

For this project I have chosen to work with a collection dating back to 1947. The donor of the collection spent a number of years as a child in Balikpapan and then the small island of Pulau Kemaro on the Musi River, Palembang, South Sumatra. Known as the Devil’s Island to locals at that time, Pulau Kemaro seemed like a vast wilderness to the donor. She was completely immersed in the nature of the place yet the fact that it was an island, a piece of land separated from the mainland was an idea that she just could not grasp at that age. I find the way that we understand landscape formation at different stages of our life, and in our memory, fascinating. Our knowledge of  significant landscapes that we have inhabited can become abstract over time but nevertheless they remain powerful in how we identify ourselves. The donor of this collection understood that there was unease surrounding her and her family’s presence on the island yet she she was too young to understand the politics. In fact this was a tumultuous time to be in this area. Initially, they were sent to Balikpapan just six years after the Japanese invasion in which many Dutch nationals were massacred. Subsequently, during their time on the Musi River, there was continual political unrest whilst Indonesia claimed its Independence and the family were eventually evacuated during the CIA bombing of Balikpapan in 1956.

My plan during this project is to research the history of this area further whilst reflecting on some of my own landscape memories for a series of works on paper and leather. These will become sculptural as the works develop. I will also research the small collection of objects in the collection; a jigsaw puzzle and two photographs. More to follow!



Island I, II, III – acrylic on leather.