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                                             b. 1972, West Chester, Pennsylvania

                                             Lives and works in Adelaide, Australia

Deborah Paauwe was born in December of 1972 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, United States of Chinese and Dutch heritage. During her childhood she travelled the world with her missionary parents and two brothers and in 1985 moved to Australia with her family. In 1994, Deborah graduated from the South Australian School of Art, University of South Australia with a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Visual Arts) and in 2000 completed her MA in Fine Art Degree at the Chelsea School of Art, London. Deborah Paauwe exhibits regularly and widely and is presently based in South Australia with her artist husband Mark Kimber and son Dash.

“Whether portraying an image of a girl tying a ribbon on her friend's pony tail, an adult woman's legs entwined with those of a girl, or two nude women lying side by side under see-through fabric, Deborah Paauwe's photographs are hauntingly mysterious.”

(excerpt from Deborah Paauwe: Beautiful Games (book review) by Penny Craswell, 2004


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SUMMER OF '83                                                 2018


STOLEN RIDDLES                                                 2015


THE PAINTED MIRROR                                          2012


THE YELLOW LINE                                               2010


CAROUSEL                                                          2008


THE CRYING ROOM                                            2006


CHINESE WHISPERS                                            2004


DARK FABLES                                                      2004


MILK WHITE SHADOW                                        2004


DOUBLE DUTCH                                                  2002


VIOLET WINDOW                                               2001

Summer of '83




In 1983, Deborah Paauwe had not yet moved to Australia from the United States. Only eleven years old, she was facing those transitional years when the innocence of childhood diminishes. When the warm days of summer are marked by sleeping, slow dreaming or busy interludes with friends. Paauwe introduces this body of work with a diptych in blue where a barefoot girl reclines amidst an excess of tulle. This is the ‘Summer of ‘83’, full of provocative memories of now unfashionable pleats, dots and lace trim on synthetic fabrics in pastel and citrus hues.

Psychologists speak of adolescence as an explorative process, a crucial time in the formation of self, and the cognition of self in relation to others. This is a period when parents are shunned in favour of peers and pushing against boundaries is a part of the everyday. Consequently, it is also a time of increased vulnerability when friendships made, or broken, impact on long term emotional stability, social success and ultimately the resilience of one’s global self-esteem.

The young girls that populate the series huddle together protective of their aspirations – to be centre stage, to be admired. Their garish dance costumes lack the classic simplicity of the ballet tutu. Instead the bands of tassels, ribbon and sequins are suggestive of proud, dedicated mums chatting as they stitch backstage at rehearsals. Mums who live vicariously through the status of their daughters in a competitive arena. On the sidelines, they cling to the last vestiges of parental power, hopeful their children realise a better life.

The artist’s leitmotif of freefalling tresses secures the girls’ anonymity, locking from view the openness of their eyes and self-conscious smiles. Instead what comes into focus is one girl’s chipped baby-blue nail polish or the fine silver band on an index finger. There is uniformity in the shade, texture and length of their hair. The pale and supple skin of their exposed limbs implies the benefits and underlying values of the middle-class – accessibility to education and health care. These young beauties are defined by the norms of their broader community. They belong to each other.

What is apparent in the languorous gestures of Paauwe’s pubescent bodies is attitude, defensiveness and nonchalance. With their heads close, secrets are whispered and opinions supported. Each individual’s victory becomes a validation and affirmation of their belonging, which contributes to the communal kudos. Conversely, when life serves a blow to one this all-girl clan rally in support with affectionate caresses and comforting arms. There is a familiarity between the girls, which holds the artist’s nostalgia for adolescence in an incorruptible stasis.

Allison Holland, Curator, Australian Centre for Photography, 2018

Stolen Riddles, 2015



KATE POWER, 2015  -

That breathing in and out remembers lost or quiet things you always wanted [1]

Somewhere I still have the photographs my friends and I took of one another dressed up in my sister’s clothes when we were only eleven. We posed with props that empowered us to perform new and different identities: my sister’s electric guitar, a plastic tiara and a purple exercise ball.  This memory is of a specific hot-blooded communication that occurs between girls, where the move from childhood to adolescence is navigated together and where there exists a tension between solitary and shared experiences. The cloudy photographs, taken on a disposable camera, show undeveloped bodies in poses that awkwardly practice how to simultaneously present the allure and integrity of being a woman.

Child play is a safe and private rehearsal for ‘real’ life’s performance. The intimate spaces created in pre-pubescent secret-sharing, lies and games create a particular momentary excitement, which can verge on both the erotic and sinister. Play between girls exposes that the nature of intimacy between women is inextricable from emotions responding to the socially constructed performance of femininity. This unconscious awareness of performance creates a tender, trusting understanding of how it feels to be perpetually watched. Though never overtly explained that this is the way of the world, through social codes and the pervasive construction of gendered behaviour, certain rules are learned.

Becoming a woman felt a bit like becoming famous [2]

Deborah Paauwe’s staged portraits of pre-pubescent girls are intimate considerations of the volatile transition from girlhood to womanhood. The images capture the complexities of navigating this time with secrecy, ambiguity and take a sensitive approach to the physical indicators of innocence budding into awareness.

Like most of Paauwe’s photographs, faces in the Stolen Riddles series are obscured from view. We glimpse teeth awkwardly finding their position, presenting a confronting and grotesque image of childhood development, further heightening its precariousness and uncertainty. Subtle suggestions of narrative are constructed through the coupling of the girls, emphasising their solitude in the singular photographs. The physical interaction between the girls draws attention to their vulnerability. A protective arm folds over a flat chest, unformed hips are embraced and supple arms are linked in mutual union. When viewed as a whole, the tension between the girls coupled and isolated speaks of states of loneliness and alienation, where the difficulty of navigating private and public spaces becomes an experiment with freedom and an emerging awareness of the significance of beauty is formed.

In Stolen Riddles there is a focus on the lushness and allure of hair. The wigs are sumptuous and appealing. In some photos they look like ripe fruit, while in others they are arranged awkwardly and shambolically, like soft shields or bad hiding places. The obstruction of faces with hair has an uneasy edge and gives the impression of dual identities, heightening the sense of a shared secret game. Of course in all games there is an initiator and an initiated; a complex web of power relations. There is something more assertive about the girls in this series. The gestures of hair-shaking and protective unification have a strength that feels as though the subjects play a more active role than in Paauwe’s previous work.

…once we had the peculiarities and history of our bodies in place we went on to the stories…

The contrast of young girls together and in private is at the centre of this series as Paauwe reveals a tender embrace, the desire for escape and a sense of alienation. These images could be seen as responses to memories or might remind us of the mysterious ways our own childhood recollections manifest in adult experience. This transitional time in the lives of pre-pubescent girls is both intriguing and uncomfortable. There is pleasure in looking at these photographs, yet the contrast between the girls’ innocence and awareness destablilises our gaze, creating a pervading sense of unease. To counter this discomfort we try to decipher what it is, and in that process, create narratives of our own.

Kate Power, 2015

[1] Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2013). 

[2] Caitlin Moran, How To Be a Woman (London: Ebury Press, 2012).

[3] Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness (London: Vintage Books, 2010).