‘In a way we are putting those loose threads out and hoping the audience will travel across and meet us in the middle.’ – Judy Watson, Waanyi people
Work by two of Australia’s leading artists – Judy Watson and Helen Johnson – will be presented in conversation at the National Gallery of Australia as part of The Balnaves Contemporary Series.
Two artists, two generations, two perspectives: Judy Watson & Helen Johnson: the red thread of history, loose ends opened on Saturday, creating a dialogue on the roles of women in contemporary and colonial Australia.
Watson, a Waanyi woman, based on Jagera/Yuggera and Turrbal Country of Meanjin/Brisbane and Johnson, a second-generation immigrant of Anglo descent based in Wurundjeri Woiwurrung Country in Naarm/Melbourne, have each developed new works that explore complex and varied perspectives on colonisation, with an emphasis on the experience of women.
Curators Tina Baum, Gulumirrgin (Larrakia)/Wardaman/Karajarri peoples, and Elspeth Pitt said both artists consider the roles of women in recent history.
‘Matrilineal experience is key to Watson’s work, while Johnson explores the symbolism of women and whiteness in historical illustration and contemporary media.’
‘From womanhood to truth-telling, Judy Watson & Helen Johnson reflects the artists’ shared artistic concerns through different perspectives as they explore their individual and Ancestral cultural experiences living in Australia.’
For Watson and Johnson, the hope is this collaboration starts conversations, prompting people to encounter subjects from different perspectives.
‘There are parallels in the way that Helen and I look at history and try to deal with it as artists, and to bring it into our current perspectives as women and mothers, living in Australia with the burden of what happened on this continent in terms of colonization. It’s a historicising of fact and research, but there’s a tender stamp of femininity too, which is very powerful. Subtle, but powerful,’ said Watson.
‘Judy and I have such different subject positions, but with the commonality of womanhood. I was thinking about the work that can be done from these perspectives and what happens when they meet. I feel like colonial Australia and contemporary Australia are one and the same thing – this is part of the continuity that runs through this exhibition and is alluded to in the title: The red thread of history,’ said Johnson.
Judy Watson & Helen Johnson: the red thread of history, loose ends is a Know My Name project and part of The Balnaves Contemporary Series.
Judy Watson & Helen Johnson is a free exhibition on display from 19 February to 5 June 2022.
Curators: Tina Baum, Gulumirrgin (Larrakia)/Wardaman/Karajarri peoples, Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Elspeth Pitt, Curator, Australian Art and Jaklyn Babington, formerly Senior Curator, Contemporary Art.
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