‘Granddad shot a racist’ – was the intriguing introduction to just one of the stories that has artist Dianne Jones obsessing to uncover.
“I get obsessed with these stories. We need to get lost in them and not be afraid of them”, said Jones. “We need to deal with them without them being another sensationalised story”.
On the stage sat three of the five collaborating Aboriginal women artists speaking at the preshow talk series for the exhibition, Violence of Denial. It was the first time that the coinciding Phd Scholars have gathered to speak about what inspired them to bring this exhibition alive.
Curated by Worimi artist, filmmaker and storyteller Genevieve Grieves, Violence of Denial is an exhibition that speaks back to a colonising history and landscape of Australia that is predominantly narrated, represented by and focused on white male conquest. It outs truths and knowledge about our history that renders the invisible visible. The works of artists Vicki Couzens, Dianne Jones, r e a, and Julie Gough represent our past, and are memorials to events that we are encouraged to remember. Through exploration and re-enactments the artists combat the denial of past truths that reinforce continuing perspectives of absence. The artists “bring forth voices, experiences and knowledge that work toward a more just and equitable future”, wrote Grieves.
A film screening of a road trip around country in Tasmania is the first work to engage you upon entering the exhibition space. Imagery of dry and burning, wet and floods, cold and snow may initially deceive as a scenic tourist drive through diverse landscapes. However, accompanying text quickly informs you of a visual tour of Aboriginal massacre and displacement sites unpalatable to an anglo telling of its history.
My attention was diverted to another large screen by the movement of an Aboriginal woman wearing a colonial dress running through the bush. Fading in an out of ghostly appearance artist R e a seemed to joyously reclaim country and space. Hence, her smile, through a barrage of British-rule-coloured paint-splatter, may have been defiant. Her work PolesApart – ‘is a body of work that was inspired by the ongoing and violent impact of colonisation on our land and our bodies’. Noting the absence of black bodies in Australian colonial landscape paintings her work is a declaration against the notion of terra nullius.
A beautiful sound of language drew me back across the room. A softly spoken statement of remembrance played as a possum skin cloak hung in honour of a peoples effected by the atrocities of colonisation. Vicki Couzen’s silhouette respectfully projects onto a large cloak, embedding itself into its story. Making a connection to land and paying tribute those lost.
On a screen, I watched artist Di Jones gently search through found objects, her hands trying to sense story and searching for the truth. A puzzle becomes complete as rattling pieces of shackles and chains lay alongside old colonial tools of forks, knives and spoons. In an obsessive search to discover the truth, her work is part of a series in response to a Cold Case: The murder of Sarah Cook in York, WA: 1839.
How does art engage with storytelling, history and memory? The answer lies in the message that this exhibition intends; that there is a lack of recognition of and a continued ‘denial of the violence of the past as an act of violence in itself’, as Grieves stated.
All five artists voice common threads of remembrance and healing. Of balancing stress and trauma through the creation art. Of addressing the trauma of the past through stories that are being ignored. They continue to find the puzzles, the pieces, the truth, and uncover lies.
Violence of Denial closes on Sunday 14th May 2017.