Dr Bette Mifsud was born in Western Sydney Australia, and raised there on family market gardens during the 1960’s and 1970s.
At the age four, Bette became enthralled by a box of black and white family photographs and negatives she found under her parents' bed. The box had emigrated with her parents from Malta after WWII. In it she found portraits of her parents against an utterly foreign landscape backdrop. Bette discovered she had grandparents and a large extended family--of total strangers. These photographs suddenly opened a window onto a world much bigger than the one she then knew.
In that pre-digital era, the exchange of photographs by mail was for migrants a vital umbilicus that kept them connected to their distant homeland and families.
Bette’s Mum regularly photographed her growing family and sent photographs to her parents ‘back home’, carefully folded into her beautifully handwritten letters. In return, Bette’s Mum would receive much anticipated letters containing more treasured photographs. She safely stored the letters and photographs away along with her precious Box Brownie camera.
Those family snapshots were the first photographs Bette had ever held in her hand. Their power and value, led to her to take up photography at the age of ten using a Kodak Instamatic camera her Mum gave her.
Bette studied, lived and worked in Sydney from 1981 until 1995.
From 1985 to 2006 she worked as an artist, curator, art administrator, and educator. As curator and administrator, Bette worked at The Australian Centre for Photography, Artspace Sydney, The Tin Sheds Gallery, Belvoir Street Theatre and The City of Sydney Sculpture Walk.
In 1995, Bette moved to the Blue Mountains World Heritage National Park in New South Wales, Australia and continued to work as an artist and educator. She has lived in the Blue Mountains with partner, novelist, Trevor Shearston, since then.
In 1997 their son, Corin Shearston, was born.
Their home has studios, a wood workshop, a vegetable garden, fruit trees and a large native garden.
A snapshot of Mum and I, sent to my Grandma Elizabeth, in Malta.
In 1985, Bette graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts from Sydney College of the Arts, majoring in photography and painting. In 1996, she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts with First Class Honours from the University of New South Wales, majoring in photo-media and multimedia installations. In 2012, she graduated with a Doctorate of Creative Arts from the Western Sydney University, majoring in ecological art. Her research included indigenous ecologies, sacred architecture, eco-psychology, social ecology, landscape painting and photography, garden design, environmental and public art.
Her doctoral exegesis is entitled, Coming to Ground: the Work of Art in Ecohumanism
Bette Mifsud’s artwork stems from photography’s relationships with the past and how those relationships resonate with human psyche and memory in the present. She states, “photographs are like fragments of the past, and remnants of a larger ungraspable and ever-changing living world”.
Bette’s practice, has engaged with photography’s inherent dualities: negative-positive images, realism-illusion, light-shadow, the seen-unseen. Her practice extends into photography’s relationships with painting, life and death, identity and recognition, time and continuity.
Bette’s practice is quite diverse. As well as working in photo-media landscape and portraiture, she works in multimedia installation, painting, sculpture, video and ecological art.
Career Highlights and Awards
Bette Mifsud has exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including in Amsterdam, Berlin, Malta, Tokyo, and other countries.
In 1989, Bette was awarded the Australia Council for the Arts’ Tokyo residency. She spent the first six months of 1990 in Tokyo. While there, Fuji Film I&I sponsored her major work Mute, a cutting edge installation of giant suspended colour photographic transparencies. Later that year, Mute was exhibited as a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW for three months.
Bette’s many group exhibitions include: the Lady Fairfax Prize for Photography, Australian Perspecta 1991, Citigroup Private Bank Australian Photographic Portrait Award; National Photographic Portrait Prize, Olive Cotton Photographic Portrait Award (twice) and the Hazelhurst Award for Art on Paper.
As well as the Tokyo studio, Bette received four grants from The Australia Council for the Arts, and a Project Grant from the Australian Network for Art and Technology. In 2002, she was awarded a New South Wales Ministry for the Arts, Inaugural Western Sydney Artist Fellowship. In 2003, she won the Hazelhurst Art Award Major Prize.
In 2006, she was awarded an Australian Postgraduate Award from the Western Sydney University.
Bette’s artworks are held in private, corporate and public collections in Australia and overseas.