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Claudia Nicholson at The National

The Sydney artist talks about the inspiration behind her sawdust carpet at Carriageworks, part of the National Biennial of New Australian Art

Claudia Nicholson 1 (Photograph: Daniel Boud)
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Photograph: Daniel Boud
Claudia Nicholson at Carriageworks
Claudia Nicholson 2 (Photograph: Zan Wimberley)
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Photograph: Zan Wimberley
The National at Carriageworks: Claudia Nicholson 'All I Have Are Dreams of You' (2017)
Claudia Nicholson 2016 (Photograph: Anna Kucera)
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Photograph: Anna Kucera
Claudia Nicholson ‘Pero no cambia mi amor’ (2016) - C3West: Women of Fairfield

Colombian-born Sydney-raised artist Claudia Nicholson is known for her contemporary twist on the colourful ‘alfombra de aserrín’ (read our story on the one she made for the C3West project Women of Fairfield), created painstakingly over several days using sawdust, glitter and pigment – and in the case of her work at Carriageworks, fresh rose petals.

‘All I Have is Dreams of You’ is inspired by singer-songwriter Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, dubbed “the Queen of Tejano” (a genre of folk-inspired music by Texan Mexicans), who was murdered in 1995 by the president of her fan club. She was 23.

“She was a really significant Latin-American pop figure, and really well loved in the States,” says Nicholson, who discovered Selena while researching Jennifer Lopez. “She [Lopez] got famous playing her in a biopic. Selena Gomez was named after her. She was one of the first women to break into the Tejano music scene, and one of the first figures to straddle her Mexican and American cultures. It was a big deal for a lot of young women at the time – she was the first person that they saw themselves reflected in – so she has a really cult following. When Hello magazine ran a tribute after she passed away, the issue sold out overnight – and it was a bit of a turning point where companies realised that Latin Americans were a powerful audience, and started to market to them."

‘Alfombra de aserrín’ have a ceremonial function, and are danced over and thus erased at key festivals and celebrations. For the opening weekend of The National, Nicholson commissioned queer artist Koco Carey to dance over her carpet. “There are some queer readings into Selena, about how drag queens and impersonators reconnected with their Latin roots by embodying her.”

The carpet was subsequently – painstakingly! – remade by Nicholson, so audiences can appreciate it for the duration of the exhibition.

You can see Claudia's work until Sunday June 25 at Carriageworks.

Head along on that final day at 3pm to see the artist perform on – and destroy – her work with a tribute to Selena's choreography.

Check out our full list of highlights from The National Biennial of New Australian Art.

Claudia Nicholson is also a finalist in the 2017 John Fries Award – you can see her work at UNSW Galleries from Aug 11 as part of that exhibition.

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