Tracey Moffatt is an Australian photographer, our entry in the Venice Biennale, and only incidentally an Aboriginal woman, although a lot of her art is very much about the Aboriginal experience.
I return to Bega Regional Art Gallery to see an exhibition of her work. I begin with “Doomed” (2007), a video collage and the genesis of my unsettling. It is ten minutes of disaster – tidal waves, fire, collapsing buildings and general mayhem – all footage from movies. This is not my usual visual diet. My response is to giggle uncomfortably at many of the sequences, I hope the ones the verbiage designated “trashy”.
“Something more” (1989), a sequence of nine photographs, both cibachrome (colour) and silver gelatine (black and white), does nothing to settle me. This is a narrative sequence, and could also be called “Doomed”. It’s the story of a young Aboriginal woman who moves hopefully beyond her life in an outback hut, only to be murdered and left by the road.
“Some lads”, an early work, provides a brief moment of relief. Here the photographer captures the energy of dancers in the Aboriginal and Islanders Dance Company.
The relief doesn’t last long. The series of tone gravure prints called “Laudanum” (1998) contain horror subdued by technique, but there’s still a sense of doom in the architectural contortions and the ghost-like figures. The photos were taken in Elizabeth Bay House and a Georgian farmhouse north of Sydney, and were produced by Mapplethorpe’s printer by techniques unavailable in Australia. I’m learning a bit about the collaborative nature of photography., and about a photography nothing like my snaps of sunny beaches.
Photos from the series “Scarred for life” (1990s), captioned very matter-of-factly, depicts incidents from childhood which will never be forgotten.
The final video “Nice coloured girls” (1987) shows colonialism stood on its head as Aboriginal girls cruise Kings Cross looking for a drunk bloke to roll, with juxtaposed extractcs from early colonial journals about the exploitation of Aborginal girls. Or is it the ongoing outcome of colonial brutalities?
A lot of Moffatt’s photographs are staged costume pieces. The children’s room in the gallery has a collection of props and costumes, a mirror, paints and a camera and encourages children to emulate Moffatt’s modus operandi, if not her dark themes.
Disclaimer: I had no idea that this exhibition would give my readers cause to say yet again: “Not for me Meg.”