Art reflective of island life

Written By: Paris Rose

The Cocos Keeling Art Galleries are well known for their beautiful, rich and colorful works of art. Much of the art displayed in the art galleries of the Cocos Keeling Islands are reminiscent of both the culture and lifestyle of the people native to the island.


Emma Washer

Well known for building an art gallery from an old barge, Emma Washer is perhaps also known as the artists that creates works of art from the refuse that washes ashore. Vivid in color, texture and creativity, Emma Washer has creations gracing the walls of the Big Barge Art gallery that are incredible pieces of art crafted almost entirely from what many would consider “trash.” Her art is not limited to the paint brush; Ms. Washer also crafts beautiful jewelry from what washes ashore as well. The Big Barge Art Centre is not only a place to go and look at beautiful art, but also a place to create some of your own. Art classes and studio time are also offered at the Big Barge Art Centre. It is also entirely possible to speak directly to the artists who have created many of the works of art on display. The Big Barge Art Centre became a reality in 2009 and has since continued to be a “must see” gallery for tourists and natives alike.

Karen Willshaw

Karen Willshaw, artist of marine and island life, uses her art to capture the many animals native to the Indian Ocean. Her art conveys the powerful and sometimes destructive relationships between animals, people and the Cocos Keeling Island weather. The combination of the sometimes incredibly destructive storms and mankind are often a focal point in her art work. She often is inspired to create her works of art based upon the Cocos Keeling Island landscapes, nature and sea life. Much of her work is done in acrylic as well. Karen Willshaw’s Art Gallery showcases both her talent and gives the viewer a snapshot of the incredible myriad of animals, nature and people that make up the Cocos Keeling Islands. Although most of her art work centers around the natural aspects of the Cocos Keeling Island, she also is fond of creating works of art that celebrate marriage. She captures the beauty of the Cocos Keeling Islands behind the lens as well as with a paint brush.

 Cara Ratajczak

Painter of life, that’s what Cara Ratajcsak is known for creating when she constructs an inspired piece art. She is inspired by the ebb and flow of the oceans currents and how they mimic the life of the island dwellers of the Cocos Keeling Islands. “Art Adrift,” was created with this concept in mind. Using articles washed ashore from Lombok, Java, Sumatra and Sulaweski, Cara Ratajczak created a reflective piece of work using these sunwashed, ocean worn articles representative of the native island people.


Every artist has a muse. The artists of the Cocos Keeling Islands create pieces of art that reflect their inspiration and respect for the Cocos Keeling Islands and the many things that reflect the culture of this unique and beautiful island.





Pop art popular in the Cocos Islands

Written By: Jacqueline Iliff

Emma Washer has found a creative way to make art using the strangest items that wash up on the shores of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Ms. Washer built The Big Barge Art Centre on Home Island in this atoll in the Indian Ocean off the northern coast of Australia. The Big Barge Art Centre offers an exoctic location for artists to show and sell their art. The Centre also serves as an artist studio where tourists can learn how to create everything from woven baskets to jewlery.

For nearly ten years, Ms. Washer, a lifelong resident of the Cocos Islands, was drawn to a large timber barge that was pulled from the beach and left in the jungle. The boat, “Biar Selamot,” was handbuilt by Malay boat builders in 1965. It served as a barge to collect coconuts from the northern Keeling atoll. The “copra” (extraction of coconut oil) industry flourished for decades. The boat was eventually also used to ferry workers, students, and others across the lagoon before it was abandoned in the deep jungle of Home Island.

Over the course of eight years, Ms. Washer worked hard to find a way to move the barge back to the beach and restore it. Her dreams were realized when, in August 2009, The Big Barge Art Centre opened. The long (15 metres, or 50 feet), heavy barge became the infrastructure and focal point of the Centre. Ms. Washer created a museum dedicated to pulling items from the ocean and creating art that reflected the beauty and serenity of this secluded atoll in the Indian Ocean. The Centre serves as more than a museum. It is a place where visitors can view popular island art that reflects both the Malay traditions and the surf culture of the islands. 

The Big Barge Art Centre is located on 2000 square metres (6500 square feet) of unobstructed Indian Ocean beachfront. The Centre is surrounded by tropical coconut groves. It is a magical setting in which to display photographic art, paintings, screenings and jewelry for view and purchase. It is also used as a venue for private weddings, musical performances, festivals, and private or business functions.

Artists, including Ms. Washer, create whimsical artwork from the many items that wash up on the beach.  Buoys, fishing nets, toothbrushes, bottlecaps, cigarette lighters, and plastic toys are among the items Ms. Washer and others have found. Flotsam and jetsam wash up in abundance and help create the beautiful textures and colors in the artwork. 

Among Ms. Washer’s recent creations is a series of artwork created from washed-up thongs. She cut the thongs into squares and arranged them in patterns and colors to look like the surrounding ocean. Cara Ratajczak recently created an “Art Adrift” exhibit.  Using items washed up from the ocean, she shows how the lives of the coastal dwellers follow the ebb and flow of the ocean currents. Items that wash in from Java, Lombok, Sumatra, and Sulawesi are exposed to the elements of the ocean and the sun. They represent the ebb and wear of the people who live on the ocean’s coast.


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