Katthy Cavaliere (1972 – 2012) was a child migrant who arrived in Australia at the age of four with her parents from Italy. It’s been suggested that the loss and displacement the Cavaliere family experienced in setting up home in a new country was the most significant factor influencing the artist’s subject matter. Cavaliere kept and stored virtually all of her childhood possessions and many that belonged to her family and it’s these items that provided the basis for most of her artworks.
In her short life, Cavaliere achieved much as an artist working on performance, installation, photography, video, film and drawing. Descriptions of Cavaliere’s performances and installations while at art school and in the years following include ‘strange’, ‘poignant’, ‘trapped’, ‘haunting’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘memorable’.
The 2016 touring exhibition, Katthy Cavaliere: Loved, curated by her longstanding friend and head curator at Artbank, Daniel Mudie Cunningham, was a tribute to the artist’s lifetime creative achievements. The exhibition presented a moving portrait of an artist whose obsession with childhood and eventual grief could be witnessed in every item and artwork she made. Cunningham exhibited Cavaliere's most recognised artworks.
Katthy’s room is an exact replica Cavaliere built of her childhood bedroom, complete with her bed, desk, toys, diaries, radio, and a video of herself sleeping.
The heart-wrenching work, Nest, was made by Cavaliere in dedication to her mother after she died of ovarian cancer. The artwork captures Cavaliere sitting naked atop of a pile of her mother’s clothes at Clovelly beach gazing out at the horizon. The sun is on her back and the stockings that she’s wearing on her head are caught in a sea breeze.
Another well-known work is the photograph Afterlife. It features a picture inside of Cavaliere’s silhouette hovering over an hourglass. It’s a dark image composed primarily of shadows and only two illuminated items: a handmade straw broom and the hourglass, which contains the ashes of Cavaliere’s mother in the bottom globe.
Cavaliere achieved recognition early in her career. After graduating from UNSW Art & Design, she held a solo show at Artspace when she was only 25 years old. In 2000, she won the prestigious Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship enabling her to return to Italy and work with seminal performance artist, Marina Abramovic. Then in 2011 she was selected to exhibit at the Venice Biennale with the artwork Loved (Cunningham used the same name as the title for the travelling exhibition). In 2012, Cavaliere died from the same cancer that claimed her mother.