Broome has long been known for its fascinating pearling history and the tales of the men and women whose journeys have shaped the town and the pearling industry into what visitors to the region experience today. A narrative set against the incredible Kimberley landscape as the lure of the pearl drew a melting pot of cultures to the region in their quest for fortune. It is therefore no surprise that Broome’s most powerful artwork highlights the incredible environment of the area, from the pristine land and sea to the spectacular night sky.
In August 2021, the community of Broome stood together in Chinatown, the cultural heart of the township, to unveil the magnificent “Fusion” sculpture – a connection of earth and sky. Created by Safehaven Studios, the curved steel and wood sculpture incorporates 200 kilograms of pearl shell in a base shaped like the hull of a pearling lugger, topped with a symbolic, symmetrical composition that, twice a year, lines up perfectly to position the moon on its crest.
Commissioned by Broome Chinatown Revitalisation Project (in conjunction with Shire of Broome, Kimberley Development Commission, Development WA and in consultation with The Community of Broome) the design was intended to welcome and connect visitors to the shared histories, stories and connections of Broome’s fascinating pearling past and present, connecting the two in the most beautiful way. Willie Creek Pearls was delighted to be involved with the donation of pearl shell from our fabulous 2020 harvest which now takes pride of place in the sculpture’s base.
With the moon recently resuming pride of place atop the sculpture as it rose in late August, we wanted to take the opportunity to share with you the story behind the sculpture and introduce you to the remarkable creators, Nicole and Alex Mickle.
Can you tell us a little about yourselves:
Nicole: We are a husband and wife team who have a particular focus on large scale public art works. We live and work from our rambling bush property in Leschenault, WA. I have a background in design and have long since transitioned to fine art and sculpture. Alex is a trained sculptor and fabricator. During our professional careers, we have completed over 26 major public commissions.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Nicole: Innovation drives our practise, pioneering and developing new ways of designing and fabricating artworks that push the boundaries and possibilities of contemporary sculpture. Our work is embedded into the landscape, our pieces draw audiences deeper into the psyche, instilling further meaning and relevance into the communities in which they are placed.
How long did the Fusion sculpture take to create from concept to completion?
Alex: Three years from the start of the project through to its completion, though the actual physical construction of the work itself was around twelve months.
What materials were used to create this sculpture?
Nicole: We used stainless steel, jarrah, rope and pitch, steel and copper, as well as pearl shell (400 – 500 individual Pieces).
The sculpture weighs just under 5 tonnes.
What does the Fusion sculpture represent to you?
Nicole: Many people came to Broome, across the seas far from their homes in search of the prized pearl shell.
These diverse cultures, now interwoven here. Pearl shell is highly valued by the saltwater people of this region. Pearl and pearl shell still holding a significant place in many cultures throughout history, embedded into dragon and serpent story universally.
The sculpture rises from a curved open form that echoes the shape of a pearl shell, a boat hull, a tear or water droplet. To each side, basketry encases whole pearl shell and heavy timbers are bound with pitched rope, mimicking the sturdy & skilled craftsmanship of traditional pearling luggers. At the apex of the artwork a unique symbol is carried; the symmetrical design based on ancient ideograms. Transcendent, it reaches up and beyond, to connect earth with sky, ocean with stars, family with ancestors and people with place.
It wishes you good fortune and balance in this rocky world.
Why is its placement in the heart of Chinatown so important?
Nicole: Life in Chinatown during the pearling heyday was busy and varied; it was a predominantly Asiatic business quarter with a lively jumble of merchants, emporiums, eating and boarding houses. Here, a unique community came together with spirited reunions as the pearling luggers made it safely back to town or to muster resilience in the face of adversity. The sharing of skills, language, traditions, food, music and kinship, bought diverse cultures together to create common threads still celebrated in Broome today.
What will you be working on next?
Alex: After the Chinatown project went up, we raced back home to finish a small bronze figurative Sculpture commissioned for the newly redeveloped Museum at Rottnest Island (Perth WA). This artwork was installed on Rottnest Island as a reminder that we live and walk on Noongar land and pays deep respect to the oldest living culture on the planet.
We have two commissioned works for Schools in Perth and the Southwest to complete over the coming year and are in early discussions concerning a large tourism-based project, involving a series of artworks in the Southwest.
To view more of the amazing creations by Alex and Nicole, please visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Safehaven-Studios
To view more on the Fusion sculpture, click here: https://vimeo.com/586132971/cb188fe394
The Fusion sculpture is located in the roundabout at the junction of Carnarvon Street and Napier Terrace. We hope that on your next visit to Broome, you take the opportunity to view this beautiful piece of art and appreciate the sense of history and community that it exudes.