Artist Deborah Halpern reflects on Southbank icon, Ophelia

Artist Deborah Halpern reflects on Southbank icon, Ophelia

If you live or work in Southbank, chances are you’ve probably seen the colourful, mosaic masterpiece that has become synonymous with the area. Southbank News sat down with artist Deborah Halpern to discuss the work and its place on Southbank Promenade.

Chosen as “the Face of Melbourne” by Tourism Victoria in 1996, Ophelia has remained an iconic structure in Southbank for nearly three decades, captivating locals and tourists alike.

Ophelia was born out of my contemplation of the character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet – specifically, the themes of water and reflection both literal and metaphorical,” Ms Halpern told Southbank News.

Ophelia is an artistic interpretation that connects the tragic beauty of Shakespeare’s character with the fluid, ever-changing nature of the Yarra River. I felt this linkage not only highlights a creative integration of literary and environmental elements, but also deepens the cultural tapestry of Melbourne where the Yarra is a central feature.”

Ms Halpern’s passion for sculpting, in particular mosaics, derives from growing up in the picturesque surroundings of Warrandyte, where the “rural environment, rich with natural beauty and wildlife, provided a fertile ground for my creativity”.

“I was surrounded by creatures and influenced by the artistic ambience at home, where my mother, notable sculptors, and the works of Henry Moore served as my early inspirations,” she said.


I found a particular resonance with mosaic art’s tactile, vibrant potential. This medium allowed me to express my early fascination with the natural world through a blend of colour and form that expanded over the years and is now my signature brand.


The restoration of Ophelia in 2012 was a testament to its influence on the community, which involved moving the work to a more prominent location on Southbank Promenade.

Unlike creating a new work from the ground up, meticulous restoration of Ophelia posed its own unique set of challenges, including the task of sourcing the original tiles to ensure the preservation of its authenticity and vibrancy.

“The process of creating Ophelia was a labour of love, infused with the challenges and joys typical of mosaic artistry,” Ms Halpern said.

“It brought me a profound sense of satisfaction, reconnecting with my original vision and the physical elements of the artwork – I loved doing the restoration because it brought so many people coming over to say ‘hi’ and sharing with me their love of Ophelia.”

Reflecting on her creation’s significant impact on the Southbank community, Ms Halpern says she appreciates the “dynamism and visibility” of Ophelia’s current home, as well as the vibrant culture the precinct.

Ophelia remains a beloved fixture in the Southbank community, as indicated by the positive feedback received during the restoration process. The community’s love for the sculpture gratifies me, confirming my artistic mission to create works that resonate deeply with the public,” Ms Halpern said.

“I view Ophelia as more than just an artistic endeavour; it is a medium through which she connects with and enriches the community with colour, inspiring joy, and contemplation.” •

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