There are two bodies of work in this exhibition: a series of shields and an installation that recalls a ‘naturalistic’ diorama from a museum display.
Cut from travelling trunks, the shields in this series reference voyages, arrivals, departures, moving on, presence, displacement and adventure. Sculpted to the size and shape of rainforest shields from the Atherton Tablelands, their age and patina relate also to the incongruous buttoned-up Victorian identity that Indigenous women in our family projected in photographic portraits. The feminine identity of this western context dovetails with the matrilineal heritage of rainforest culture, where the shield is seen as a feminine object.
The diorama is representative of ‘museum theatre’ and the spectacle of the curious, the collected, the displayed. The simulation of reality, the re-telling of stories, the topographical (on the surface) representation of culture and landscape through objects, is exemplified through inert and lifeless, constructed, animals. Yet the animals do have life; they do convey a sense of reclamation, of reconstruction, of spirit in an Indigenous land.
The blue and white designs that comprise the china mosaic suggest both commodified stories retold through an art form – ceramics and transferware – that was industrialised in the eighteenth century, and fables that depict the exotic and fantastic, the Oriental and the Other in faraway places. This period of western intellectual thought and industrial expansion also brought forth theories of evolution that attempted to rationalise and ‘scientificate’ the natural order of nature and humanity.
Nature is intrinsically connected to the spiritual, and cannot simply be bound by a cool and detached framework of intellectual theory or observation. The imposition of purely scientific theory in natural history as the only explanation for the breadth of creation was (is) anathema to any living culture and humanity connected to the land, and anaesthetises our connection to that which lies beyond: the invisible.