Artist in the Master’s hands

Bindi Cole Chocka
Bindi Cole Chocka with some of her work. Photo by: Megan George

Marilyn Manson said: "I think it's the pain and suffering that drive you to become an artist." If that is true then it is no wonder that Australian new media artist, photographer, writer and curator Bindi Cole Chocka has such an impressive resume.

Chocka's work has been exhibited in numerous museums and art galleries around the world such as the Museum of Contemporary art in Taiwan, the MOCADA in New York and the National Gallery of Australia.

In 2010 she was named one of Melbourne's Top 100 Most Influential People by The Age newspaper.

Looking at the articulate and polished 44-year-old today, it is easy to imagine her life must have been, if not one of privilege, then certainly of little hardship.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Raised by a mother who was a prostitute, a stripper and a drug addict, life has put Bindi through the wringer so hard she almost never made it to her 25th birthday. Ironically, it was also her mother who gave Bindi her first camera, unknowingly setting the stage for her daughter's future success.

Sentenced to four years in jail in London in her early 20s for selling drugs, Bindi should never have reached the heights she has.

When she was a child, her mother would sometimes bring her to the strip club where she worked.

A voice said:
Call out
to my Son

"I saw and experienced many things a young girl never should," Bindi says. "At the time it seemed normal to go with my mum to work at a strip club but as I grew up I realised the detrimental effect it had on me."

When she was eight, Bindi was removed from her mother. Too young to realise it was for her own protection, she blamed herself and nursed that rejection for decades.

For the next few years she was shunted to-and-fro to other relatives. She was severely neglected as well as physically and sexually abused.

At 13, Bindi was reunited with her mother – who promptly introduced her to marijuana and alcohol. Three years later, her mother died of cancer.

Bindi installation art
Example of Bindi’s art.

By this time, Bindi was hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol. Her mother's death traumatised Bindi and sent her into a freefall of self-destruction. Drugs, drink, abusive relationships, crime and wanton sex. This future artist's life was not a pretty picture.

"I carried such a sense of shame that I believed I was physically repulsive," she shares on her YouTube channel. "I completely lost my smile. I carried everyone's rejection and it turned into an intense self-hatred.

Hoping for a fresh start, she scraped together her money and flew to London – where she found a drug dealer the day she landed.

London did little to improve Bindi's life. "Within a year, I weighed 42 kilos, overdosed regularly, been defibrillated back to life multiple times and going into drug-induced psychosis regularly.

"I knew I was going to die. I could sense death upon me. I knew one more overdose and that would be it."

Bindi used to love mocking Christians when she was about 13. She would paint '666' on her forehead and leap out from behind corners and hiss at groups of Christians handing out flyers in her neighbourhood.

But now, in her hour of greatest need, the God she had mocked reached out to her. Through the fog in her head she heard something – a voice in her heart that kept saying the same thing: 'Call out to My Son, call out to My Son, call out to My Son.'

"It was repetitive and it was relentless," Bindi remembers. "So I did it. I called out 'Jesus help me!'"

Within a week she was arrested and sent to prison – where she began her journey out of darkness.

"The day I began my prison sentence I was at the lowest point in my life," Bindi recalls.

"But the very moment I walked into my cell it was like God was right there, waiting for me. I experienced a peace and a love I had never experienced. I knew there and then I could stop running.

"It was life-changing. For the first time ever I knew I was deeply and profoundly loved. Within a month I gave my life to Jesus."

Bindi cross
This cross-shaped piece is called Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing and is on display at the National Gallery of Victoria.

She says prison was a window of opportunity. She detoxed, completed a rehab program and joined Alpha, a Bible study group.

"Prison is not necessarily a physical place with walls, bars, windows and locks," she says. "A prison can be internal as well. People are held behind bars of loneliness, fear, pride, shame, and addictions."

Bindi only served two years of her four-year sentence and returned to Australia when she was 26. Set free from her demons thanks to the healing love of God, she was studying within a year. Within five years her work was in the National Gallery of Australia.

Then things began to unravel again. Bindi says when she left prison, she stopped going to church, praying and reading the Bible.

"The art world is very secular; it glorifies darkness and hates Christianity," she says. "I stopped walking wholeheartedly with God.

"I lived as an undercover Christian because I was so afraid of what people around me would think, afraid because I was the very thing I used to mock as a child.

"I tried self-help, Buddhism, New Age. They did nothing for me. Life without God, even with all my success, was completely empty."

Seven years after her release, she called out to Jesus again. And again, He met her at her point of need. This time she surrendered completely to God.

"God showed me the ways I had hurt Him and others," she says. "I stopped thinking of myself as a victim. I stopped blaming everyone else and took responsibility for my part. This was my point of true repentance. I asked God for forgiveness and I got it, freely without debt or cost."

Bindi has not looked back. Even her art has changed.

"I felt God spoke to me about some of my artwork," she reveals. "I felt He didn't want me to show certain pieces any more. So I destroyed about 25.

"I now pray before I make anything. Sometimes God gives me inspiration, sometimes He lets me do what I want. My heart now is to make work that will stand for eternity. That's my benchmark.

"Now I only want to make art that God would hang on His walls."

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