Mirka Mora

Love, light and joy are the hallmarks of Mirka Mora’s work. She was the matriarch of Melbourne’s art scene – a beloved figure whose compulsion to create spilled out of her. She drew on dolls, kitchen utensils, trams, walls, ceramics, seeing every surface as an opportunity for creation, for her iconic characters to find homes.

Mirka is a star in A Seat at the Table, our inaugural exhibition running until 26th of February 2023. There are her soft sculptures, ceramics, charcoal and mixed media works and artist palettes, all alive with their creator’s spirit.



'Girl with Bird Hat'


An Art of Resilience

In 1942, fourteen-year-old Mirka was arrested and sent with her mother and sisters to Pithiviers internment camp in France. Their names were on a list to be deported to Auschwitz when at the last minute, Mirka’s father successfully arranged their release. For the next three years, the family hid in a tiny town in Burgundy. 

This experience lingers in Mora’s art, not as despair but as a grounding resilience. She once connected her cherubic characters, who star in the original mixed-media ‘Untitled (Little Saints)’, to a memory of seeing children crammed onto a train headed to a concentration camp. “Yes, the truth you have to remember… You have to speak for the dead, don’t you? You have to and I’m a witness”, lucky to have escaped.


'Untitled (Little Saints)'


Mirka immigrated to Australia in 1951 with her son and husband, George Mora, a resistance fighter who helped smuggle Jewish children out of the country while working at an orphanage. In Australia, the couple became stars of the Australian art scene – Mora’s infectious joie de vivre and creative spirit rendering her an icon.


It Girl

Mirka and George set up camp in Grosvenor Chambers at the ‘Paris End’ of Collins Street, Melbourne, where artists like Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts had studios. 

George had an entrepreneurial streak. In 1967, he opened Tolarno Galleries, and with Mirka opened three significant Melbourne hospitality venues – The Mirka Cake, Cafe Balzac and Tolarno, in St Kilda. At Tolarno, Mirka painted murals across the bar, window, restaurant and bistro, transforming the restaurant into an artery of St Kilda’s cultural life.

"Actually, the Mirka Cafe got too big, because too many people came and couldn't get in. And so we opened the Balzac Restaurant and the Balzac Restaurant was really the toast of Melbourne. It was a beautiful restaurant."


'Untitled (Angel Face)'


Mirka’s inspirations were vast. From the theatrical traditions of the Surrealists to European Modernists, classical mythology, fairy tales, child and outsider art, and the toys and dolls of her Russian folkloric heritage. Her work is often childlike, colourful and sweet, sometimes haunting, but always distinctively hers. 

Perhaps Mirka’s best known artistic output were her dolls, hugged for many years, vessels for the artist’s spirit and enduring legacy. Indeed, despite being mere paint and cloth, these dolls feel alive. When Mora’s dolls were first exhibited in 1971, John Reed wrote:

"You are not entering an "exhibition" but rather a new world, a world of illusion... a country that may be strange but it is also beautiful and compellingly familiar. This is the artist's country."




In the later stages of her career, Mora held doll-making workshops for members of the public, many of whom reported the experience as life-changing. James Antonious of The Australian described her as “an artist of the city and an artist of the people.” She was an Agony Aunt, restauranter, artist and icon.


Explore our Mirka Mora collection

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