Maria Fernanda Cardoso in her studio, 2020. 
Photo: Daniel Boud. Courtesy of Create NSW.

Maria Fernanda Cardoso, the Colombia-born, Sydney-based artist who creates nature-inspired sculptures and installations comprising unconventional and organic materials, has been named the recipient of the 2019–20 New Dimensions Fellowship for established visual artists. The award, which is valued at up to $30,000, is administered by NSW Create—the creative arm of the government of New South Wales—and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA). The partnership between Create NSW and MCA, now in its second year, was initiated to support the professional practice of artists in New South Wales.

“We are delighted that this award is going to Maria Fernanda who has an international as well as national reputation for her thought-provoking work about the natural environment and our relationship to it,” said MCA director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor. “She is highly deserving of this fellowship and we look forward to working with her to deliver the outcome of the partnership through presentation or acquisition of the new work.” With the funds, Cardoso plans to produce a new series of large-scale digital portraits documenting various species of the Maratus, a brightly colored Australian spider. For the project, she will collaborate with photo-microscopy expert Geoff Thompson to photograph up to twenty species.

Cardoso, who relocated to Sydney in 1997, studied architecture and the visual arts at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá in the 1980s. In 1987, she moved to New York to attend the graduate sculpture program at Pratt Institute, and in 1990, she completed her MFA in sculpture at Yale University. For many of her early works, Cardoso incorporated preserved animals such as lizards, starfish, frogs, and snakes in abstract compositions. One of her best-known works is perhaps “The Cardoso Flea Circus,” 1994–2000, a six-year series of performances and installations for which Cardoso trained fleas to perform various tricks. The performance traveled to venues such as the Sydney Opera House, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. Cardoso represented Colombia at the 2003 Venice Biennale and earned her Ph.D. from the Sydney College for the Arts.

Commenting on the fellowship, Cardoso said: “I am extremely grateful to Create NSW and the MCA for this opportunity and am excited to create new work around these extraordinary tiny creatures. Australia has immense invertebrate diversity, yet it is relatively understudied and certainly little known by the general public.”

Artforum. “Maria Fernanda Cardoso Awarded NSW Visual Arts Fellowship,” 2020. Available on: