French artist takes up residency in Cobargo to capture portrait of the village

ART EXCHANGE: Aurelia Monfort said Cobargo is a world away from her hometown of Lille, France, an industrial town with a population of 200,000.
ART EXCHANGE: Aurelia Monfort said Cobargo is a world away from her hometown of Lille, France, an industrial town with a population of 200,000.

A French artist has taken up residency in Cobargo for three months to tackle questions of identity and capture the character of the village and its residents.

Aurelia Monfort arrived in Cobargo on Monday, February 5 to launch a communal portraiture project developed with Cobargo artist Suzy McKinnon that has been over a year in the making. 

Ms McKinnon previously lived in Hill End, a town outside Bathurst renowned for its sought after Artists in Residence program that has been running for almost 70 years. 

As an artist with a background in community work, Ms McKinnon wanted to combine her two passions for the Cobargo interpretation. 

“I always dreamed of bringing a similar program to Cobargo when I moved here, but we had to give it a twist to make it unique to this town,” she said. 

Ms McKinnon invited Ms Monfort to be Cobargo’s artist in residence after she visited the country to meet family in Barragga Bay for Christmas in 2016. 

Ms Monfort returned to the region supported by a community grant from Cobargo’s Bowerbird Op Shop that covered the cost of her flights. 

The question of identity has been a major focus of Ms Monfort’s artist career. Her previous research in France explored the multiple personalities of individuals and how they play out within a community.

“I look at the difference between external identity, how others see you, and internal identity, how you feel inside,” Ms Monfort said. .

“Two people may have different external identities, but their internal identities may be very similar, so this project is about breaking away barriers to allow these internal identities to connect.”

She added that the better people understand themselves, the better they can connect with others which in turn leads to less conflict within a community. 

Ms Monfort will run workshops for adults and youths of Cobargo that will draw on her artistic knowledge as an actor, director, writer and filmmaker.

She said the final portrait of the town will be determined by the creative input of people who attend the workshops, even if they only come in for a chat. 

“Of course people don’t need artistic experience, the more diverse the crowd, the more robust the portrait will be, whatever shape it may take by the end of April,” Ms Monfort said.

Ms McKinnon predicts working around a language barrier will encourage participants to spend more time with Ms Monfort and communicate ideas more clearly. 

She hopes the Cobargo artist residency can continue on a yearly basis.