Summer 2013 Volume 48 IMPRINT MAGAZINE: Image and Identity


Laura Stark: Marks of Identity: Diary of a Journey

 by Suzanne Shelley, B.A., M.C.D.A.D. Sydney based visual artist

Famiglia2 Marks1 traces5 jpg copy

Identity is formed on the move

“In a world of movement we are all, in a sense, migrants and the idea of identity is a fiction. Our sense of identity is experienced from this movement”[1].Iain Chambers

Marks of Identity: Diary of a Journey began as a personal visual examination of identity, dislocation and cultural contrasts through the voyage of Laura (the artist) and her mother in 1948 from Trieste, Italy to Wellington, New Zealand.  During this cultural uprooting and displacing journey the need for a passport was imperative to allow authorised movement between countries. It is these residual marks of human movement over time and space stamped within these identifying documents that became the motivation for a continuing intimate narrative about the memories of transition. The series, realised in print form using etching, collagraphs, photopolymer intaglio and mixed media, were submitted for an MFA in 2000 and continue to evolve.[2]

Inherent in the concept of a passport is the need by the bureaucracy to reduce or simplify an individual into a few categories. Even the photograph is processed, embossed, stamped or even pierced, admittedly to prevent counterfeiting, yet the result further subdues the individual features and superimposes an overriding mark of authority. By using these images the contrast between the individual and bureaucratic is emphasised, e.g. by extracting and emphasising key phrases such as ‘IN NOME’, ‘in the name of’ used in many symbolic associations such as in the name of the law, the fatherland, of God, etc with its nationalistic, patriarchal or religious overtones.[3]

In the course of the research questions of the nature of identity were raised. Iain Chambers’ book ‘Migrancy, Culture and Identity’ struck a chord. He proposed that the concept of a national cultural identity is really a myth and that in a world of movement generated in part, by the global economy, that we are all, in a sense, migrants, and that the idea of a fixed ethnic cultural and social identity is a fiction. Chambers further suggests that  “our sense of being, of identity and language is experienced and extrapolated from the movement: the ‘I’ does not pre exist this movement and then go out into the world, the ‘I’ is constantly being formed and reformed in such movement in the world”. [4]

Chambers questions whether this ‘discontinuous state of being’ brought about by migrancy and exile can transform itself into a force for the enrichment of culture or whether it is a weak and destabilizing element. “Faced with a loss of roots and subsequent weakening of the grammar of authenticity we move to a wider landscape  … our roots are seen as traces, voices and murmurs that are mixed with other histories”[5]

 These thoughts on the nature of identity are echoed in the development of Laura’s images. The documented experience of life changing journeys and a sense of shifting place are recorded in the series which attest to temporal, fractured relationships. In some a patina of age is recurrent together with marks of bureaucracy.  Text is torn and crumpled, seemingly discarded or reconfigured with braille like embossments. Intersecting arcs and open spaces suggest maps and routes of journeys. Obvious images are increasingly rejected in favour of more subtle fragmented forms, the aim being to hint rather than specify and so allow a wider interpretation.

Laura’s search for her roots using the marks of identity within the images of her family’s passports led her eventually to generalise and abstract her forms in an instinctive need to find a common ground with other histories. In so doing she questions the idea of a fixed identity and finds empathy with the words of Iain Chambers.

We are all migrants

Laura Stark is an artist and art educator. She has had a number of solo exhibitions and exhibits regularly with the Sydney Printmakers and other print groups. Her qualifications include an MFA UNSW College of Fine Arts, 2000 Dip in Teaching NZ, 1972, Dip FA Canterbury University College of Fine Art, 1960. For detailed CV see


  1. Iain Chambers, Migrancy, Culture and Identity. Routledge, London & New York, 1994 p.24-25
  2. Laura Stark, MFA Thesis UNSW 2000

[1] Chambers, I. Migrancy, Culture and Identity. Routledge, London & New York, 1994 p.24-25

[2] Artist’s interview

[3] Stark,L. MFA Thesis 2000

[4] Chambers, p.24-25

[5] ibid. p.18