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Insights of an Eco Artist

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Magazine - Art and Culture

Nurturing Cultural Roots - The Multifaceted Artistry of Sofie Dieu

Joana Alarcão

Embark on a journey through culture, womanhood, and ecological consciousness as Sofie Dieu's 'Our Plants, Our Heritage' delicately weaves together art and community, fostering understanding and empowerment.

12 February 2024

Sofie Dieu has a Bachelor in Textile Design and Sculpture. In 2016, she graduated from Montpellier III University with a Master in Visual Art and Contemporary Practice. She currently teaches design theory at Monash University.

Sofie's collaborations include working with the Black Dog Institute and the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women's Coalition as well as local councils across Melbourne. Her work has been extensively shown in Melbourne Eastern and Western Suburbs, Gippsland and New South Wales.

Since 2019, Sofie works with immigrant and refugee women. Together they co-created a collective embroidery work as part of her project Longing for Home which has been exhibited in New South Wales and across Victoria. Since 2017, Sofie works with Gippsland communities affected by bushfires and drought. Her work culminated in the publication of Stillness Through Art, a Guide to Over-come Eco-anxiety. She is a multi-art prizes and award finalist.

Our Plants, Our Heritage delicately navigates the intersections of womanhood, displacement and environment from a poetic, socially inclusive and emotionally charged lens. 

Drawing on the inner world and its constituent parts it questions how human interactions and identities, such as culture and national roots, are framed. A communal bond – which brings together migrant women of Melbourne's greater region – gives the project a warm and kind atmosphere, as certain botanical designs are showcased, momentarily in the spotlight, you can sense an underlying desire to address and prevent isolation, discrimination and gender inequality. These underlying messages are the foundational pillars of this project's multicultural body and the practice of contemporary French artist Sofie Dieu, where she revisits cultural heritage and ecological consciousness. 

"There are many entry points in my art. It is poetic, socially engaged, it refers to underrepresented people's lived experience, ecological knowledge. It also speaks of our natural environment and our relationship to it. People can relate to what I do on dif erent levels. It is inclusive and can be seen in art spaces as well as outside the usual gallery system." 

In Our Plants, our Heritage, Sofie Dieu in collaboration with artist Leila Ashtiani (Iran), Humaira Fayazi (Afghanistan), Abouk Giir (South Sudan)and Rahila Zeeshan (Pakistan), eloquently explores community engagement and diverse traditional knowledge. In connection with Multicultural Women Victoria (MWV), a not-for-profit organisation that strives to develop opportunities for migrant and refugee women, the artists constructed four textile banners and soft sculptures representing plants that hold an important significance individually and culturally. 

"Since 2019, I have worked with MWV by delivering art projects that sit at the intersection of womanhood, ecological preservation, and transmission of ancestral belief systems." the artist explained. "I usually work with women from the community who have no prior training in the visual arts. For Our Plants, Our Heritage, I worked for the first time with emerging artists from my community and it was such an enriching experience for all of us." 

City of Monash workshop. The participants pose with ‘their’ plant at the end of the workshop series. Image courtesy of Sofie Dieu.

With a body of work permeated with a deep passion for fostering connections within her community, this project is no exception. Because the artist works predominantly with women who lack formal art training, Dieu's approach is non-hierarchical, which gives space for her creative process to unfold through craft workshops. These provide a platform for diverse sources of knowledge and for this project in specif, participants delved into the culinary, medicinal, and ritual aspects of plants significant to their cultures. The resulting artworks were transformed into repeat textile patterns, locally printed using eco-friendly materials and portraits of the artists wearing the same designs.

".. the women met at my place and we did a photoshoot where they performed their artwork. On one hand, it had a practical purpose: I wanted to create portraits for people to see who the artists were. On another hand, it was also a manner to re-embody our traditional knowledge, and make one with it." 

Leila Ashtiani (rose, violet, daffodil). Image courtesy of Sofie Dieu

Once you know that the artist lived four years in China before immigrating fourteen years ago to Australia, you understand the personal connection to foster community, care and understanding - a conductor line that permeates her practice. In this last respect, perhaps the most striking aspect of Dieu's projects is her ability to bridge cultural gaps and encourage understanding between diverse communities. 

This same understanding helps the artist overcome language barriers and varying levels of English proficiency during workshops, and navigate the challenges with recognition and financial factors, as she seeks support from local councils and art organizations which offer visibility to the project as well as artists, helping countering mainstream stigmas. 

Rahila Zeeshan (jasmin). Image courtesy of Sofie Dieu.

Sofie Dieu's gaze is firmly set on the horizon, with a desire to delve deeper into the traditional ecological knowledge of plants with her community. Her vision encompasses soft sculpture, print, zines, and storytelling, pointing towards a comprehensive exhibition in the coming years. Dieu's commitment to creating a space that is inclusive, emotionally resonant, and socially engaged remains at the forefront of her artistic practice and is an inspiration for any artist aiming to create work intertwined with community. 

In the dialogue between art and activism, the artist’s insights illuminate the transformative power of art in overcoming cultural differences. Our Plants, Our Heritage, brings our attention to the capacity of art to empower communities, and amplify voices that may otherwise be marginalized. Sofie Dieu's work, passion and care are a beacon, inviting viewers to navigate the intricate lines of cultural heritage, ecological stewardship, and shared human experiences 

Humaira Fayazi (apple blossom, poppy). Image courtesy of Sofie Dieu.

For those interested in delving deeper into Sofie Dieu's work, explore her website and exclusive interview on Patreon.

Cover Image:

Leila Ashtiani (rose, violet, daffodil). Image courtesy of Sofie Dieu.

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