Babushka dolls encourage thought about the burka
By Margaret Burin
A collection of Russian matryoshka dolls recently acquired by the Art Gallery of Ballarat delves into the burka's impact on the identity of women.
Penny Byrne came up with the idea for her artwork titled Swat when reading an article about the Taliban moving across the Afghanistan border and enforcing Sharia Law - the code of law based on the Koran - in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
"The day that that happened, women just disappeared off the streets," Penny says.
"Sharia Law is quite prescriptive about the way women can behave and also what women are expected to wear and one of the things is that they are supposed to wear full burkas."
She says she was horrified by stories of women being shot for not wearing the burka.
"The work I guess for me was responding to that article and imagining how it would be if it happened here for instance, that women just suddenly were not visible in society anymore.
"That's why it starts from the biggest doll, still being able to see her face and then as they get smaller and smaller and smaller, and they get paler and paler and paler, right at the end they just disappear."
While Pakistan regained control of the Swat Valley in May 2009 and women returned have since returned to school and work, there are fears the Taliban will regain power amid the Pakistan flood disaster.
Penny says she follows the topical burka debate right across the world. "I guess women and the burka is an issue worldwide."
Penny Byrne grew up in Mildura and went to boarding school at Ballarat Grammar for a short period in the mid-1980s. She is now a Melbourne-based ceramics conservator and artist.
Swat is on display in the Art Gallery of Ballarat's Recent Acquisitions exhibition.