Award-winning sculptor and UNSW Art & Design graduate Alex Seton has been awarded the coveted Mordant Family/Australian Council Affiliated Fellowship to study in Rome. The Fellowship will enable Mr Seton to spend two months in residence at the prestigious American Academy.

Mr Seton, who graduated from UNSW in 1998 with a Bachelor of Art Theory and History, is renowned for his contemporary applications of traditional marble carving techniques that explore difficult human experiences. He also works in sculpture, photography, video and installation. Most recently, Mr Seton’s work has shone a light on the plight of refugees and migrants around the globe. 

“It’s a gratifying validation after years of practice, and a rare opportunity to take time out of everyday studio to focus upon investigating new ideas,” Mr Seton says. “I have found it increasingly difficult to leave aside time solely for the act of discovery. At the American Academy I’ll have plenty of time and access to research facilities that I wouldn’t normally have.”

The recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, Mr Seton is the third recipient of the Mordant Family/Australia Council Affiliated Fellowship at the American Academy. Established in 1894, the American Academy in Rome is the oldest American overseas centre of independent study and advanced research in the arts and humanities. Through the Affiliated Fellowship Program, artists and scholars from all over the world have the opportunity to pursue their work in an inspiring, collaborative and supportive environment.

“The Fellowship will be an opportunity to reassess the form in which my ideas are expressed led by the history and scientific research of the material itself,” Mr Seton says. “The American Academy is a great opportunity professionally to engage with fellow artists and academics. I’m looking forward to talking with restorers and conservators to further my technical understanding and challenge any preconceptions I may have of the material I think I know well.”


Alex Seton's The Effigy Series (After), (2016). Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Mr Seton has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. He will study the use of the shroud in Roman marble statuary. Mr Seton has used the traditional device of carving soft fabric as drapery to imply the figure and prompt the audience to imagine themselves in the position of the wearer. He has used this device to comment on political issues and to promote empathy on issues such as Australia’s asylum seeker and refugee policies.

“Doing this in stone has had the advantage of not being easily swept aside, to fix a moment in time that many want to ignore,” Mr Seton says. 

But under current environmental conditions, even stones like marble lose their status as the most permanent or resolute of materials. Mr Seton will use his time in Rome to study the vast treasure of marble statuary that sits outdoors eroding under the many atmospheric chemicals of modern pollution. 

“When even stone – a material of thousands of years of human storytelling – is under threat, you know humanity and the environment are at a dangerous tipping point,” Mr Seton says. “I’m going to investigate and research those specific implications to the material and the language around it.”