One cannot review this as just an art exhibition as it is so very much more. It is a recognition of truth, a correction of history and a reminder of how art can communicate more forcefully, and honestly, then the written word. As we read in the catalogue, this exhibition is a memorial, one that "stands as a symbol to Aboriginal People across Australia whose people lost their lives and land in lesser known massacres, knowing their people didn't just give up." The exhibits celebrate only a few but in doing so they honour the many who did not survive in Pinjarra, and by extrapolation, in other places.
Despite the horrific subject, the works evoke a sense of hope as they suggest a reaching back in honour while looking forward to healing. The colours are strong, the patterns bold and the imagery ranges from simple to complex. One of the unifying aspects of this exhibition, with its variety of styles, media and visual language, is pride of heritage. Another is the fine quality of the work.
Graham 'Swag' Taylor offers two landscapes, Canjern and Yoon-ya each depicting aspects of life along the Murray River. The realistic rendering in black, grey and white is almost surreal as it evokes a dream-like world where nature and people are compatible. Meanwhile Norma MacDonald's Geewing depicts the real world of horror as a family of three attempt to hide under the bank of the river, just inches away from the barrel of a rifle. One shows fear, another resignation, the third contempt.
Troy Bennell's richly coloured red, black and yellow Doong-Gol depicts the blood drenched land and spirits of the dead heading toward the sunrise. While Gloria Kearing and Rob Ewing work together to present River of Spirits, a powerful composition in strong colours that suggests all living things, in nature and beyond, are connected.
Sandra Hill's painting Bungar offers what could be a map, or an aerial view of a river meandering through a 'stain' on a ground that is marked with a grid. Three white arrows point to the centre of a gun sight. And Julie Dowling's Un-goo-loop depicts a lone child standing in tall grass, one arm holding the other in a 'comforting' manner. She was a witness and a casualty of the horror.
I have to admit, although all the exhibits are excellent, the caved Emu Egg Ny-atch by Barry Bellotti moved me most. Not just for the beauty of the soft hue and the excellent carving, but for the story it told. Three perfect portraits stand out from the carved action all around; they could represent different members of a single family or different reactions by one witness to the horror. The three faces reflect alert observation, disbelief of what is seen, and horror of the fact.
This exhibition is a must see. Not just to peruse good examples of fine art but to learn the truth, and to remember it.
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