Island art as beautiful as its home

Written By: Caitlin Cecic

Twenty-seven tiny islands create a tranquil scene for the best art gallery for miles around. Displaying artwork of clear water, sandy beaches, and textured sea creatures, The Big Barge Art Centre found a home on the West Island of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Not only does the art make it worthwhile to visit the islands, which are territories of Australia, but take a look outside for the source of inspiration between the sweet coconut palm trees and a whole lot of water.

Located in the ocean’s backyard, The Big Barge once worked as an actual barge. Originally used to haul timber, this large boat was abandoned and pulled onto shore and into the jungle years ago. With the small size of the island, it is not surprising that someone stumbled across the vessel and immediately recognized its potential. Raised on the island, artist Emma Washer made frequent visits to the barge before coming up with the perfect idea for its use. To get the project going, Washer and other locals spent months moving the ten-ton boat to its current home. After a complete restoration, the art center opened in August of 2009. Since then, the barge has become home to a gallery, a working artist studio, and multiple art courses.

As a local artist, Washer creates work that conveys the grandiose nature of the islands. Washer enjoys creating all types of art, including jewelry, paintings, and mixed media pieces. Recently, she has experimented with drift from the ocean. For example, in her “Funky Sweetlips” screenprints, she places the stamp of a fish on the screen. After searching for ocean drift on the beach, she stamps the textured pieces the screen, creating the impression of a live fish. In “Blue Lagoon,” Washer represents the movement of the sea, displaying equal-sized squares of drift in multiple rows. Staring at this mixed media piece gives you a sense of the uniqueness of each sea wave.

Just as the sea houses a variety of sea creatures, so does the gallery hold a variety of artists’ work. Karen Willshaw’s “The Junkong” is a high-quality photograph that captures the simplicity of a man with his sailboat. The bright red sails offset the transparent water as the boat glides to shore. Photographer Cara Ratajczark takes a different approach in her print series that hones in on different parts of a ship. In “Weathered,” for example, the viewer can concentrate on the smallest detail of a ship’s side. In this print, the ship is clearly old because the wood has been painted multiple times over the years as each color faded. Even though the picture does not include the entire boat, it conveys a sense of the strength of the ship and how long it has lasted.

If you cannot make it out to the islands, The Big Barge sometimes hosts art exhibitions on the Australian coast. For example, the Art Adrift Exhibition Fremantle Festival, from October 26 to November 10, 2014, will display artwork at Fishing Boat Harbour. Visitors will get the chance to see what happens when you combine the culture and experiences of residents from the islands and West Australia.

For more information about the festival or The Big Barge art gallery, visit their website at http://thebigbargeartcentre.com.au/

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.





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