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Shield of Voices – Dr Penelope Forlano

Dr Penelope Forlano was the 2018 Artist in Residence at Parliament House.

Dr Forlano’s artwork, titled Shield of Voices, celebrates women Parliamentarians and references that until recently, Parliament was a largely male-dominated environment. Through her work, the artist compares the Parliament to an exclusive gentleman’s club, often frequented by the upper classes in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. In these establishments, calling cards, placed on a silver tray, were used as a means of vetting visitors.

The silver tray, the basis of the artwork, is much larger than the trays that would have been used at that time and, by referencing, a shield represents the power and strength of women. The calling cards comprise the 93 female members of the Parliament of Western Australia through time, some of whom have been exemplary leaders. Collectively, the cards celebrate their combined achievements. Some members’ names are accompanied by literal images that reflect their contributions to the Parliament and community, while others are more symbolic, reflecting the traditional use of flora, fauna and hands on calling cards. The edging of the cards, which takes the form of lacework, contrasts starkly with the contemporary materials and industrial machining processes used in the design – adding feminine qualities to the club aesthetics and, thereby, celebrating women. 

The artist has deliberately left some calling cards blank, reserved for the work of future female members of Parliament, indicating that their work is not yet complete. In the centre of the artwork the viewer sees their own reflection, which the artist intends will prompt the question, ‘What have I done and what am I contributing to this discussion?’

Shield of Voices is displayed in the Lee Steere Foyer and can be viewed by participating in the monthly art tour of Parliament House.

Dr Forlano is a graduate of Curtin University with a Bachelor of Science (Interior Design) and a Doctorate of Philosophy – Architecture and Interior Architecture. Dr Forlano is an award-winning artist, furniture and interior designer and one of her furniture pieces, Terrain, has been acquired by the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

The Artist-in-Residence programme arises from a collaboration between the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University and the Parliament of Western Australia. Annually, it provides a Western Australian artist with the opportunity to explore aspects of Western Australian culture, history and politics within the institutional context and space of Parliament. The Artist-in-Residence programme forms part of a broader collaborative programme with the University around visual arts events, including exhibitions.

You can also click on the following link to see more detailed photos of the artwork. Shield of Voices images