A powerful alchemy

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Looking Glass resurfaces what colonisation attempts to disguise. Featuring Aboriginal artists Judy Watson and Yhonnie Scarce, the exhibition uses the colossal forces of earth, water, fire and air, to illuminate the devastation of Country both historical and present. Ranging from installation and video to works on canvas, the exhibition centres the frontier wars, climate disaster and other truths in clear view.

These themes resonate in a year marked by brutal fires and a global pandemic. But while the apocalyptic events are unsettling, both artists approach the insidious impact of colonisation with a subtle beauty, unveiling important messages without abrasive methods. Scarce’s intricate handblown glass sculptures, hung from the ceiling in the installation Death Zephyr, 2017, evoke a sublime otherworldliness. Yet the individual glass pieces symbolise the crystallisation of desert sand caused by British nuclear tests in Maralinga, South Australia, during 1956–63: material evidence of the horrendous treatment of Aboriginal people.

Judy Watson, spot fires, our country is burning now 2020, acrylic, pastel, graphite on canvas, 194 x 181 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane. Photo: Carl Warner.

Similarly, Watson’s works on canvas, such as spot fires, our country is burning now, 2020, layer different environmental forms to announce that nature requires us to listen and respect Country. “It’s a very powerful form of advocacy,” says exhibition curator Hetti Perkins. “Judy uses ochres, pigments and organic materials, water. Yhonnie’s works are earth/sand, air and fire. The alchemy occurs not only in the creation of new forms out of these materials but also in the creating of beautiful objects that have a sting in the tail!”

In the work of both artists, Perkins describes “an unnerving feeling” of “hidden depths”.

In Looking Glass, these pieces and themes intersect, symbiotically exposing crucial narratives in ways that are both gentle and beguiling.

Looking Glass
Yhonnie Scarce and Judy Watson
TarraWarra Museum of Art
28 November 2020—8 March

This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Timmah Ball