Julie Rrap by Victoria Lynn

Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).

During the 1980s Julie Rrap embarked on a group of major works that drew on aspects of nineteenth‑ and twentieth‑century art history. Created two years after her first solo exhibition Disclosures at Central Street Gallery in Sydney, Persona and shadow 1984 reworks images from Edvard Munch, literally ‘shadowing’ the female archetypes in his oeuvre: sister, siren, pubescent girl, artist, Christ, Madonna, Pieta, sleeping woman and old woman. Rrap’s Puberty mimics the pose in Munch’s paintings of the same title, but does not fully dissolve into the original form. Rather, her aim is to reconstitute her own body as an ‘actor’, highlighting the fact that throughout art history women have been depicted in a series of roles. As such, Rrap’s photograph has been montaged to awkwardly fit into the outline of Munch’s figure, creating a visual parallel of this process of assigning a function to women.

The golden yellow bodily ‘shadow’ surrounding Rrap’s body marks out Munch’s original pubescent girl. This form is, in turn, trapped inside a purple architectural structure (purple and gold being colours of the Christian religion). Not only are these zones of colour a reference to the Expressionism that Munch heralded in his work, they are also compellingly suggestive of a grid. Throughout her work, Rrap often critiques the history of art and so too here we see an appropriation and embedded criticism not only of the art historical depiction of women, but also the art movements of Expressionism and minimalism that were more often than not associated with male artists.

The artist has commented:

the distortions of my body in Persona and Shadow are created following a rule—the rule being that the original outlines of the Munch images stay intact but this rule creates another affect … that of creating strange dislocations in my body. I think the performance element in much of my work has this outcome of chance: accidental, unpredictable, slapstick almost.(1)

Indeed, performance is at the basis of much of Rrap’s photography, installation, sculpture and video. She is something of a ‘trickster’, literally performing and emerging from the shadows, at once the outsider and the other, but also occupying centre stage, as it were, with guile, humour and creative invention. In Persona and shadow, Rrap ‘hops into Munch’ in order to present a renewed, vital and subjective female presence. These works are not part of a process of self‑exploration. They conceptually reformulate the ways in which women can be presented in art, intervening in the conventional relationship that the artist has with his [sic] model. Rrap performs the revenge of the other, literally having the last laugh.

(1) Julie Rrap, quoted in Victoria Lynn, Julie Rrap: Body double, Museum of Contemporary Art and Piper Press, Sydney, 2007, p 19.

Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Lynn, Victoria. "Julie Rrap" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 322–323.

VICTORIA LYNN is is Director, TarraWarra Museum of Art, and has curated major exhibitions on the work of Rosemary Laing and Julie Rrap.

Julie Rrap appears in