Capturing the layered landscape

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Sara Maher has long been drawn to isolated terrains, immersing herself in the reflective solitude of Tasmanian landscapes and sites. Yet her art doesn’t capture the landscape in traditionally realist form, but is instead concerned with questions of ancestry and colonisation, the experiential and emotive elements of place, and a sense of psychological unease.

Maher’s latest work was developed during a residency on Bruny Island, where she continued her ongoing exploration into how her Irish and mixed-European heritage—in particular one colonial ancestor who arrived on the second fleet—is connected to contemporary colonialism. “My work comes through a thoughtfully researched and embodied encounter with place, a growing yet fragile connection to lutruwita Country,” explains Maher. “I see Lunawanna-alonnah/Bruny Island as a microcosm of the larger Tasmanian and Australian story, wherein the quiet resonance of the land, water and sky, and the unspeakable in our history, hover.” Part of Maher’s process is listening to what has been silenced and erased by colonisation.

Sara Maher. Photograph by Les Allester.

While Maher’s two-decade practice has seen her create across painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and installation, her latest exhibition features fine and careful water washes with collage, painted and drawn abstractions on paper, and minuscule sculptural assemblages. These are exhibited to “conjure a subtle energy zone” that metaphorically represents the energies of life matter. For example, liquid that moves across paper might correlate to ripples in sand and water, or the movement of light.

By invoking her deeply affective experience of the Tasmanian landscape, and the layered colonial, ethical, emotive, historical and material aspects of this experience, Maher creates with “sensitive reciprocity” toward the nature and culture around her. “Through those poetic expressions in my work, varying degrees of disturbance and feeling come through both my experience [of landscape] and the work itself,” she says. “The body of work I’ve made is really about being in the full stream of that experience.”

In (and out of) the Grey
Sara Maher
Bett Gallery
3 July — 24 July

This article was originally published in the July/August print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Tiarney Miekus