It is 400 years since Dirk Hartog, an employee of the Dutch East India Company, landed on the Western Australian coast in October 1616. Blown off course during a voyage from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), he landed in South Africa and then stumbled upon an island o what is now Shark Bay. He left an inscribed pewter plate as evidence, and set sail again more or less immediately. His brief presence, however, cast a long shadow.
Curator John Mateer traces the route of Hartog’s voyage, assembling contemporary artists from the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and Indonesia. Works by William Kentridge are shown alongside painters Julie Dowling and Joanna Lamb, and sculptors ‘Big’ John Dodo and Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, among others.
At the centre of the exhibition is renowned Dutch artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s video work No False Echoes, which deals directly with Dutch colonial history in Indonesia. In this context, the exhibition’s other works highlight the social and political connections between four diverse countries, over four centuries.
The ‘invisible genres’ of the exhibition title are those artistic frameworks that emerged during 17th-century Dutch painting: portrait, still-life, landscape/seascape and ‘genre’ (everyday life). Now so entrenched it seems incredible they were once new, these genres continue to influence the production and interpretation of contemporary art. By making them apparent, Mateer points to other lenses and frameworks we would do well to reassess.
This is an important conversation to have now, at a critical time in the post-colonial narrative. The ripples of history may be hidden or overlooked, but remain very much in motion.