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Creative Paddington: David Capra

By Lola Pinder


David Capra is a multidisciplinary artist working with performance, dance and community engagement. Capra sees his studies at UNSWA+D as fundamental to his foundations as an artist. I spoke with Capra and he explained how significant the university gallery, Kudos Gallery, had been to him, as a place he frequented regularly and was able see the work of his peers.

I asked Capra about his fondest memory of Paddington and he recounted a great historical moment he shared with his grandmother;

 “I have a memory of my grandmother visiting COFA to see an end of year exhibition. When she arrived she was quite surprised as, the painting studios where I worked was the exact site of her first home when she arrived from Italy to Australia. She told me stories of the local Paddington Italian community during the 50s and 60s and how thrilling it was living in a busy metropolitan city.”

Capra’s work is influenced by his everyday interactions, the wonderful characters he meets, and the places he inhabits; social engagement and site-specificity are his media. He described to me how working in community cultural development, last working at the Auburn Community Development Network, has shaped his own art practice. He describes his own work as intercessions, “these are practices that initiate healing”, he says. Capra uses banners and co-ordinated movements in his performances as a device to unify groups of people, similar to religious ceremony. 

In 2011, as part of Tiny Stadiums, Capra developed Ministry of Handshakes, shaking the public’s hands with a 2.5 metre prosthetic arm. This work was inspired by an encounter with Elizabeth, a woman who has shaken people’s hands on the Campbelltown train for years.

As part of his Maters degree, Capra developed the project Birthing Things in Spirit: The Water Birth, in 2013. This has a synchronised swimming performance, created with local members of the Active, over 50s fitness group at Eaglevale Central’s Aquatic and Fitness Centre. The work is inspired by Australian actor and swimmer Annette Kellerman and the Hollywood swimming star Esther Williams. Channelling the elegance of these swimming beauties, Capra and the group become mid-wives, orchestrating a water-birth... Discussion of water births and sharing movies and soundtracks related to the theme, were an important part of the project’s development and building the group’s bond. Capra has continued a relationship with the participants.

Capra’s absurd, humorous, and sincere works aim to question social norms and unite people, bridging connections in our society that is deeply entrenched in todays insular lifestyle. 

Capra is heavily involved in the use of the arts in education. In 2010, Capra was involved in the Pilot Arts NSW ConnectED project based in schools across Sydney. Then, in 2012 as part of his Parramatta Council Artist Residency, Capra worked with artists Justene Williams and Mikala Dwyer at Rydalmere Public School.

Capra completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts with honours in 2004 at UNSW A+D (then COFA) and then retuned to complete his masters in 2013. In 2012 he received the Australian Postgraduate Award and a New Works Grant from the Australia Council. In 2013 he won the Black Prize, Emerging Artist Award for his work Year of Jubilee. Since 2013 he has been a member of the SafARI Committee and Firstdraft Gallery's Co-Director. His work has been shown by Performance Space, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Firstdraft, Tiny Stadiums and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Capra is busy with several new projects; he has just finished curating a Wollongong City Gallery exhibition Che Cosa! a show, he describes as ‘looking at the notion of all things Italian”. He is also co-directing the film festival Motion Pictures: A festival of New Cinema in Fairfield, with artist Kate Blackmore. This year, The Museum of Contemporary Art has invited Capra to create new work commissioned for the Bella Room, a space designed for students with specific needs.

This post is part of the Art Month Event Creative Paddington taking place on March 7th in conjunction with Metro Screen and UNSW Art & Design.



Image: David Capra, Birthing Things in the Spirit: The Water Birth, performance still, 2014. Photo: Zan Wimberley