Opening this weekend at Latrobe Regional Gallery – 19 November 2022 – 26 March 2023
An exhibition of works themed on the monumental elements of earth, water, fire and air by Aboriginal artists Judy Watson and Yhonnie Scarce opens Saturday 19 Novemberat Latrobe Regional Gallery organised by Ikon (Birmingham, UK) and TarraWarra Museum of Art with curator Hetti Perkins and toured by NETS.
Looking Glass: Judy Watson and Yhonnie Scarce, represents both a love song and a lament for Country; a fantastical alchemy of elemental materiality, through paintings, video and sculptural works.
Exhibition curator, Hetti Perkins, said the artists are concerned essentially with Australia’s ‘secret war’—a battle fought on many fronts from colonial massacres and Stolen Generations through to the British atomic bomb tests at Maralinga.
“The seductive beauty of Watson’s and Scarce’s works belies their powerful message about the sustained campaign of the destruction of Country, culture and community in Aboriginal Australia—their work is a kind of ‘tender trap’. With the devastating evidence of climate change in Australia, manifest in apocalyptic wildfires and storms, this exhibition delivers an urgent message,” Ms Perkins said.
Born in Mundubbera, Queensland, Judy Watson derives inspiration from her Aboriginal matrilineal Waanyi heritage, working from site and memory to reveal Aboriginal histories and following lines of emotional and physical topography that centre on particular places and moments in time. Her practice often draws on archival documents and material to unveil an unceasing and institutionalised discrimination against Aboriginal people—the ‘secret war’ to which Perkins refers.
Judy Watson makes work that is politically charged, but she deliberately avoids didacticism, as she explains: “Art as a vehicle for invention and social change can be many things, it can be soft, hard, in-your-face confrontational, or subtle and discreet. I try and choose the latter approach for much of my work, a seductive beautiful exterior with a strong message like a deadly poison dart that insinuates itself into the consciousness of the viewer without them being aware of the package until it implodes and leaks its contents.”
A number of Watson’s works were made in response to visits she undertook to see English, Scottish and Irish sites of prehistorical significance—including standing stones, circles and hill figures at Stonehenge, Avebury, the Outer Hebrides and Orkney—as well as visits to The British Museum and The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. As the artist states: “My idea was to have images of standing stone forms—shadowy or very ghostly presences—and the floating of Aboriginal cultural material across the top. It’s a layering of experiences and a layering of understanding of what is culture.”
Yhonnie Scarce was born in Woomera, South Australia, and belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples. Working with glass, she explores the political nature and aesthetic qualities of the material – in particular, corresponding to the crystallisation of desert sand as a result of British nuclear tests in Maralinga, South Australia, during 1956-63. The shocking disregard for the safety of local Aboriginal people at the time was symptomatic of the pervasive racism that characterised much of Australian history since European settlement.
Scarce explains the personal nature of the politics: “When conducting family research or research in general related to issues of colonisation, it can be a difficult process of discovery. It’s an emotional journey and it’s not necessarily complete, but it’s a way of helping you deal with a tormented history. It’s important to speak about what happened because it’s still affecting Aboriginal people today.”
As part of Scarce’s ongoing research for the exhibition, the artist began a residency in Birmingham, a city with a significant history as a centre for glass manufacturing. She also undertook research at the University of Birmingham where scientific calculations that led to the development of the atom bomb were made during World War II—a weapon which went on to be tested at multiple sites.
Scarce’s work in Looking Glass includes Glass Bomb (Blue Danube) Series IV, a handblown glass bomb containing individual black and transparent yams. The effect of this contrast delivers corresponding shadows, casting a poignant presence. Scarce speaks to the significance of the reaction between dark glass and bright light: “In my works that are created for these mourning processes, the shadows that come off the glass represent those people who are not spoken for.”
Victoria Lynn Director of TarraWarra Museum of Art says: “Watson and Scarce’s Aboriginal histories underpin their unique yet interrelated evocation of the metaphors of earth, fire, water and air. We are thrilled to be supporting a significant tour of Looking Glass at venues across Australia, working with NETS Victoria.”
Member of NETS Victoria’s Artistic Program Advisory Committee, and the Curator of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Victoria, Myles Russell-Cook said “NETS Victoria is both proud and excited to be giving regional and metropolitan audiences across Australia access to the important works of these two exciting, contemporary artists. I strongly believe in this project’s potential to provide a transformative experience for people through the power of art. By touring this exhibition, NETS Victoria has enabled the exceptional work of TarraWarra Museum of Art, our exhibition partner, to reach audiences across Australia. The audiences reached through touring Looking Glass will be vast and the depth of their engagement will be significant.”
TarraWarra Museum of Art, NETS Victoria, the artists and the curator of Looking Glass respectfully acknowledge and celebrate the continuing culture and custodianship of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples on whose lands this exhibition is presented and all communities across Australia.