Francesca Rosa is a photo-media artist based in Etty Bay, south of Cairns. Her solo exhibition Memoria, investigates the history of Italian migration, with a particular focus on the first post-World War II Italians who arrived in Cairns to work in the Far North Queensland sugarcane industry.
Under the Italian-Australian Migration Agreement of 1951, men were employed to cut cane for two years as a condition of their financially assisted passage to Australia. Historically labelled ‘white aliens’, ‘swarthy invaders’ and ‘olive peril’, many Italian cane cutters became landowners, gradually replacing Australian and British farmers. This led to a fear a foreign dominance in the industry that escalated into a nationwide prejudice against Italian post-war migrants.
Through collections of personal memorabilia, historical artefacts and archival records, the artist offers a forensic quality to her work and a complex narrative about journeys and the passing of time. Particularly evocative is the installation titled Private Collection that is an accumulation of objects belonging to her father, Mario Rosa (1931-2000).
"As an Innisfail born, first-generation Italian, I wanted to create a body of work that payed tribute to my late father who migrated in 1956 for employment as a cane cutter and settled in Innisfail to work in the sugar industry until retirement. Challenged by racist attitudes, resentment and social alienation, some works reflect my personal reaction to his experiences of being culturally discriminated against and misrepresented as a non-English speaking migrant in Australia."
Francesca Rosa, January 2017
Image: Francesca Rosa, Cane Cutters 2015 (still), Single-channel HD projection, projector screen, 16:40 minutes (looped), silent, dimensions variable. Image from the collection of the National Archives of Australia.