An Art Historian’s Very Serious Analysis Of Schapelle Corby’s ‘Freedom’ Portrait


After serving 13 years in Indonesia for drug trafficking, Schapelle Corby has been released to Australia. The media has absolutely lost the plot and in the past two days, Corby — an arguably accidentally gargantuan figure in the nation’s psyche — has amassed more than 150,000 followers on a newly-created Instagram account.

However, there is one thing which stands resolute above all the hype, grubby media tactics, and confusion: this transcendent self-portrait Corby shared to her new followers.

FREEDOM hashtagoiloncanvas

A post shared by Schapellecorby (@schapelle.corby) on

We asked art historian Kate Robertson to give us the full analysis of “FREEDOM hashtagoiloncanvas”.

There is so much going on in this picture. It’s a 1960s LSD-inspired hippy dreamscape. It’s a vision-board gone wild. There is nowhere to escape. This is a fantasy of feelings, made by pulling together a bunch of freaky yet familiar symbols. I don’t even know where to start.

Schapelle travels across the universe (there are definitely twinkling stars on the black background so we know we’re in outer space), following a golden path that’s like a colourful Byzantine mosaic crossed with the Yellow Brick Road leading straight outta Oz. And, look, I might just be hungry, but does the gold leaf and coloured tesserae look kind of like a close-up of Barbecue shapes?

Also, she is galloping away on the back of… something? This chimera is a nightmare straight out of a medieval bestiary; a strange 13th century mythical creature that takes some guessing and squinting to be anything recognisable. The beast looks like a horse with the neck of a serpent, the horns of a goat, and tiny webbed wings that look like fins? Its face has human-like features, like the eyes, nose and philtrim (that little dent between your nose and mouth). It also has lips, but they are placed where the chin should be which makes everything extra confusing.

The ears also complicate things; are they kind of feline? There is even a heart over the third eye in the middle of its forehead, which might say something about New Age spirituality and enlightenment? I’m not sure, I’m too distracted by the fact it’s patterned with pink, green and purple. Oh, and the fact that Schapelle and the creature have a pale blue glowing outline, like an avatar in a video game.

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Pictured: nothing to do with drugs.

Schapelle is holding aloft an oversized, old-fashioned-looking key — an obvious symbol of freedom and being unlocked from a literal prison. Wielding this key as she travels along the road makes this kind of look like the visualisation of the conclusion of a fantasy quest. Flying alongside them is a butterfly, which has a small face with eyes that seem to be staring right at me.

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Is it… angry with us?

In visual culture, butterflies symbolise transformation and rebirth — as small children we learn about the life cycle of egg > caterpillar > chrysalis > butterfly. Personally, they always make me think about lepidoptery and insects captured and pinned to a board (but that’s probably because of the emotional scars from watching Silence of the Lambs).

Flames and flowers creep down from the frame, suggesting an escape from a fiery hell into a place of new life and growth. There is some kind of green explosion in the top left corner and some little green orbs that I would probably just think were decorative except HOT DAMN THERE’S A SPACESHIP. There is an actual flying saucer with beam-me-up lights.

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I know that it’s most likely trying to act as a metaphor about feeling like an alien abduction survivor who is thrown back to Earth after a horrific life-changing ordeal. But I’m sorry, I just can’t. I just have to stare at those purple swirls for a while.

Kate Robertson is not that kind of doctor. She is a part-time academic who also writes on art and culture, and is currently working on a passion project about women in horror. She tweets at @final_fatale