Eyes on Australia

Explore the Australian landscape through the lens of eight female photographers: Tamara Dean, Prue Stent and Honey Long, Hoda Afshar, Karla Dickens, Raphaela Rosella, Jasmine Poole and Marcelle Bradbeer; artists who redefine the ‘landscape’ of the contemporary medium by breaking the colonial, masculine lens and offering a new perspective of place and the ‘Australian’ experience.

Curated by Lucy Stranger, ‘Eyes on Australia’ – within the scope of the international photography festival, ‘Eyes on Main Street’ in Wilson, North Carolina – focuses on cultural understanding and formation of identity. These artists address the multiple socio-cultural strands of diaspora, the female body and womanhood, public and private landscapes, and rural and urban environments; intertwined with sheer aesthetic experimentation.

Tamara Dean examines our intimate relationship with nature or the Australian bush. In low light, Centre of the Universe (2009) captures two androgynous figures embraced beneath the lake water’s surface; interacting with one another as they interact with the landscape. A once still and vulnerable setting, now penetrated and disturbed as soft ripples spread across the water distorting the reflection of surrounding trees. However, safety can be found in the embrace of the two figures as their chins gently rest on each other’s shoulders offering support and comfort. In Ebenezer Rock Drop (2014) teenagers navigate through adolescence and social rites of passage within the landscape of a swimming hole, or Billabong; familiarising themselves with their surroundings, recognising the security of thick rope and sturdy trees while working up the nerve to leap into the water below. Dean’s poetic depiction of our ambiguous encounters with nature is baptismal: spiritual and transformative.

Prue Stent and Honey Long, too, immerse their figures within the landscape. In Dust Flood (2018), a lone figure enshrouded in fabric, drenched by the encompassing liquid (formed from the pink salt flats of the Murray) that fills the salmon-hued composition, rests on its side while encircling a rock. Reminiscent of the Madonna and Child canons of art history, the figure represents motherhood, sexuality and desire and inadvertently suppresses the traditional male gaze. The subject embodies strength and control and is dismissive of its now passé passive branding.

Motherhood is explored in Raphaela Rosella’s Tricia and Ty-Leta (2016), from her ‘You’ll Know It When You Feel It’ series which follows personal stories within public and private landscapes of the home and streets of regional New South Wales. Here, a young Aboriginal woman breastfeeds her baby in a darkened bedroom illuminated by the noise, or patterns of static on a television screen. Its signal interference replicates the loss of communication and understanding of social disadvantages fueled by institutional racism and class bias in Australia.

In Jasmine Poole’s Wan Wah Forbes (2018) we remain in regional New South Wales, within the kitschy, retro-coloured interior of a local Chinese restaurant, fitted with patterned wallpaper and wood panelling. They tell the histories of migrant settlement and its contribution to Australia’s heritage as well as the shaping of the modern landscape, one of acceptance and belonging.

Hoda Afshar questions the way we look at social exclusion or marginalisation by documenting displaced communities; the refugees of Manus Island. In her ‘Remain Portraits’ series Afshar reveals their individual stories in a captivating monochrome palette. Their state of limbo is a highly charged socio-political discussion in Australia thus weighing heavily on our nation’s cultural and transcultural identity. Along the same vein as Afshar, Karla Dickens, a Wiradjuri artist presents a series of self-portraits that are without land. However, unlike Afshar, whose subjects are bare and exposed, Dickens hides her physical appearance behind hand-made masks adorned with Aboriginal paintings, the Australian flag and flora designs, presenting the artist’s overlapping identities as Aboriginal Australian, woman, mother and artist. The viewer is met with a fixed gaze through the apertures in the mask, reminded of histories impact on people’s lives and psyche.

Marcelle Bradbeer places man-made objects such as cars, tires or mines in scenes void of a human presence yet filled with the notion of our effect on the natural landscape. Through a formalist approach and the use of evocative colouring, Bradbeer depicts serene composition; the placement of foreign objects amongst the natural landscape agitates the scene. In one photograph a tyre floating in the pink lakes of the Murray-Sunset National Park (one of the few remaining semi-arid regions in the world where the environment is relatively untouched), while in another an over-turned, damaged automobile (a result of illegal car-racing as indicated by its condition and the tracks in the foreground) in Queensland’s regional landscape. Bradbeer’s photographs are confronting and raise political and environmental awareness and highlight our relationship to and contamination of our natural surroundings.

Eyes on Main Street
April 27 to August 4, 2019
Wilson, North Carolina