top of page

Kay Abude

Smoko room


Performance and installation presented in the Selzer Prize 2023 at the Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery, 29 June - 22 July 2023

Dimensions variable


Artist statement

It’s break time for the workers of CARGO XXV - LABOUR SOLUTIONS, a crew of 12 working for a fictional cargo company. They’ve paused from discharging the Merlin Arrow vessel to have a well-earned rest in the company’s smoko room, a place where conversation knows no limits and everyone has an opinion. But there’s nothing fictional about the jobs these workers really do; stevedores for whom the smoko room is a safe haven from their high risk, high reward existence at the docks.


This piece continues my work exploring work itself: the value of it, the effort, the inequality and insecurity of it, especially for artists. These performers are my colleagues, the imagined smoko room is one I have sat in many times before. Since February 2022, after leaving the precarity of sessional teaching, I have worked as a stevedore to support my art practice. 


The wharf is like no other workplace I have experienced - a high-risk environment where the workers openly and constantly challenge management, because it’s our lives at risk on a daily basis. It’s always us against them; where 24/7 shift work is all consuming; where there is boat after boat or none at all; where profanities and verbal abuse are the only form of communication; where, in a strange and shocking way, bullying is a form of endearment; where gossip spreads instantly and where women make up less than 12% of the entire workforce.


Smoko room celebrates all of this: the nature of individual work and collective labour, the sometimes cruel dynamics of a team and the rarely-seen bodies that economies rely on to keep pushing ever-forward. It blurs boundaries, presenting life as art, and art as life through a performance by a real and skilled waterfront workforce - wharfies who are being remunerated for their time at their designated rate, and whose pay levels reflect their position on the labour placement sheet. There may be a hierarchy at the docks but in the smoko room, we are altogether.


Kay Abude would like to thank the following people for their involvement and support in her project:

Flick Szmagaj, Gregory Stanley, Robbie Zidarich, Campbell Dwyer, Matty Waymouth, James Horo, Dylan Aquilina, Benny Pepa, Ersin Selek, Rob Smith, Shannon Smith, Marco Rinaldi, Dewi Cooke, Joon Youn, David Sequeira, Mia Salsjö and Anthony Frazzetto.

Screenshot 2023-07-02 at 4.23.31 pm
Screenshot 2023-07-02 at 3.30.02 pm
Screenshot 2023-07-02 at 4.35.11 pm
bottom of page