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The Little Mermaid through our eyes

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

'Little Mermaid', 2019, acrylic & oil on canvas, 68cm x 68cm, framed in oak.

Fairy tales and nursery rhymes have always interested me for what they tell us about gender roles. Historically the female protagonist was a passive participant in her own story, yet these traditional fairy tales remain popular with the current generation of young girls. In my newest series I examine old fashioned storytelling, using both text and imagery, to highlight the often complex and contradictory lessons we teach our children.

The image of the mermaid references the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid and more broadly, the recent elevation of the mermaid as a popular heroine. In folklore, however, mermaids are seductive sirens who employ their beauty and their voice to lure men to their watery deaths.

This is contrasted against the She Sells Sea Shells rhyme which is inspired by the Victoria- era fossil hunter named Mary Anning. As a pioneering palaeontologist, Anning was responsible for the discovery of several categories of animals. However because she was a woman, she received little credit for her achievements and many of her discoveries were attributed to men.

The names of women like Mary Anning, who succeeded in the face of adversity, remain largely uncelebrated in popular culture; hence the rhyme sits behind the subject’s head, out of sight. Meanwhile, the hyper-sexualised image of a mermaid remains highly visible to the girl in the painting.

This particular painting was originally titled "Through her eyes" but it later changed it to "The Little Mermaid." Using my very patient god daughter as the model, I painted her image on a previously screen printed piece of canvas reflecting the pattern of a crochet tablecloth. After blocking out the background with silver metallic paint, I screen printed an image of a mermaid and text from the Sea Shell's nursery rhyme. These same images also used in a limited edition screen print, whereby they layered on top of each other. However, in this painting they are positioned at opposing sides of the canvas.

You can check out the rest of the series, titled Happily Ever After, here:

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'She Sells Sea Shells;, 2019, limited edition screen print on archival paper, $260 unframed.

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