Fairy Tales: Far from home

 

Family dynamics play a crucial role in fairy tales. Many begin with a rupture in the home that compels a character to undertake a quest, which then provides the setting for lessons in independence and resilience. Estrangements come in many forms: between children and vindictive step-parents (with their equally unpleasant offspring), or between jealous siblings squabbling for attention or power. Sometimes these separations are the result of a parent whose absence, be it through death or distraction, creates a vacuum for harmful forces to enter the home. Most parents in classic fairy tales are not to be trusted, and happy families are rare.

Buy Tickets to ‘Fairy Tales’
Until 28 April 2024
Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

Characters who find themselves far from home are confronted with the unfamiliar and are called upon to turn challenges to their advantage. Living in the royal court is an aspirational ideal in many fairy tales, including ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Snow White’. In other tales, a character achieves wealth and power through their cunning. ‘Trickster’ protagonists — a role often occupied by wolves, foxes and monkeys, who possess human traits — feature in these tales. Their disruptive and clever acts make us aware of power imbalances influencing the characters’ fates.

Fairy Tales‘ unfolds across three themed chapters. ‘Into the Woods’ which explores the conventions and characters of traditional fairy tales alongside their contemporary retellings. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ presents newer tales of parallel worlds that are filled with unexpected ideas and paths. ‘Ever After’ brings together classic and current tales to celebrate aspirations, challenge convention and forge new directions.

Travel with us in our weekly series through each room and theme of the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) as we highlight some of the works.

DELVE DEEPER: Journey through the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition with our weekly series

EXHIBITION THEME: 4 Into the Woods

‘Sky’, ‘Moon’ & ‘Sun’ costumes ‘Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin)’ 1970

Installation view ‘Fairy Tales’, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) Brisbane 2023 / Production still from Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin) 1970; 35mm, colour, mono, 91 minutes, France, French (English subtitles); Director/script: Jacques Demy, France 1931–90; Producer: Mag Bodard; Cinematographer: Ghislain Cloquet; Editor: Anne Marie Cotret; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais, Jacques Perrin, Delphine Seyrig; Image courtesy: Ciné-Tamaris, Paris / Jacques Demy (director), Agostino Pace (designer), Mine Barral Vergez (reproduction costumier), Paris; From Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin) 1970 2013; Reproductions of the ‘sky’, ‘moon’ and ‘sun’ dresses worn by Catherine Deneuve; ‘Sky dress’ costume: Taffeta, rhinestones, metallic fringe, beads; ‘Moon dress’ costume: Cloqué lamé, coated cloth, tulle, rhinestones, sequins, trimmings, embroidery; ‘Sun dress’ costume: Lamé, velvet, polyester, coated cloth, synthetic horsehair, rhinestone lace, sequins; Collection: La Cinémathèque française, Paris / Photograph: N Umek © QAGOMA
Jacques Demy (director), France 1931–90; Agostino Pace (designer), Tunisia b.1936; Mine Barral Vergez (reproduction costumier), Paris / From Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin) 1970 2013 / Reproductions of the ‘sky’, ‘moon’ and ‘sun’ dresses worn by Catherine Deneuve / ‘Sky dress’ costume: Taffeta, rhinestones, metallic fringe, beads; ‘Moon dress’ costume: Cloqué lamé, coated cloth, tulle, rhinestones, sequins, trimmings, embroidery; ‘Sun dress’ costume: Lamé, velvet, polyester, coated cloth, synthetic horsehair, rhinestone lace, sequins / Collection: La Cinémathèque française, Paris / Photograph: C Callistemon © QAGOMA
Jacques Demy (director), France 1931–90; Agostino Pace (designer), Tunisia b.1936; Mine Barral Vergez (reproduction costumier), Paris / From Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin) 1970 2013 / Reproduction of the ‘sun’ dress worn by Catherine Deneuve / ‘Sun dress’ costume: Lamé, velvet, polyester, coated cloth, synthetic horsehair, rhinestone lace, sequins / Collection: La Cinémathèque française, Paris / Photograph: N Umek © QAGOMA

The darkest of the classic tales is Charles Perrault’s ‘Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin)’ from 1695. It tells of a king who promises his dying queen that he will only remarry a woman as beautiful as she, with the unfortunate consequence that their own daughter becomes the sole candidate. In the story, the princess’s fairy godmother instructs her to outwit the king’s request for marriage with a series of impossible demands — a dress the colour of the sky, one of the moon and, finally, one of the sun (illustrated). When the three challenges are met, she asks the most impossible request yet: a cloak made from the skin of the magic donkey that fills the kingdom’s coffers. The king agrees, and the princess is forced to flee the kingdom, unrecognisable beneath the donkey cloak.

This tale was adapted for film in 1970 by Jacques Demy, a renowned director of the French New Wave. Demy harnessed his characteristic use of vibrant colour, stylised sets and musical performance to amplify fantastical elements of the tale, while exploring themes of class, gender and social expectations. Inspired by Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) 1946, Demy also pays homage to Cocteau’s influence through his stylistic and special effects choices, script and casting (Jean Marais was both the Beast in Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête and the King in Demy’s Peau d’Âne).

Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin) 1970 G screens at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA

Abdul Abdullah ‘Troubling the margins’ 2022

Abdul Abdullah, Australia b.1986 / Troubling the margins (from ‘Interloper’ series) 2022 /  Digital print, made with the assistance of David Charles Collins / 162.5 x 130cm / © Abdul Abdullah / Courtesy: The artist and Yavuz Gallery, Sydney

In fairy tales, many characters live by their wits rather than by the comforts of birthright and status. Often taking the form of an animal with human traits, they rely on their resourcefulness and trickery to create a life of adventure and reward. The tale of ‘Puss in Boots’ is one such story.

Australian artist Abdul Abdullah comments on ideas of ownership, place and belonging in the large-scale photograph Troubling the margins 2022 (illustrated), from his ‘Interloper’ series. Majestic in size, Abdullah casts himself as the fox, a trickster figure in many fairy tales, seated among the chickens, comfortably laying claim to the hen house, an esky by his side. The work was inspired by Abdullah’s time in London, where he noticed a fox darting in and out of London alleyways as he passed by at night. The sense of being an unwanted presence at the urban margins struck a chord with Abdullah, whose practice looks closely at the way marginalised communities can become are targets for vilification.

TheFairy Talesexhibition is at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Australia from 2 December 2023 until 28 April 2024.

Fairy Tales Cinema: Truth, Power and Enchantment‘ presented in conjunction with GOMA’s blockbuster summer exhibition screens at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA from 2 December 2023 until 28 April 2024.

The major publicationFairy Tales in Art and Film’ available at the QAGOMA Store and online explores how fairy tales have held our fascination for centuries through art and culture.

From gift ideas, treats just for you or the exhibition publication, visit the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition shop at GOMA or online.

‘Fairy Tales’ merchandise available at the GOMA exhibition shop or online.

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