BRENDA L CROFT h e a r t- i n - h a n d
AMALA GROOM Does she know the Revolution is coming?
COVER ABOVE: COVER BELOW:
BRENDA L CROFT Dot 21 and Joe 33 Cooma 1959 (Margaret Ashton), 2018 AMALA GROOM Does she Know the Revolution is coming? 2017 (Production still) image credit Hamish Ta MÃ©
BRENDA L CROFT h e a r t- i n - h a n d
AMALA GROOM Does she know the Revolution is coming?
BRENDA L CROFT h e a r t- i n - h a n d
Part nostalgia, part Wunderkammer, ‘heart-in-hand’ has been created as a tribute to my mother, Dorothy Jean Croft (née Stone) (1938 - 2010), on the 80th anniversary of her birth. A passionate archivist, Dorothy was a talented craftmaker, gifted amateur photographer and dedicated writer, who could have written professionally. Witty, whip-smart and generous, she was also mercurial, known within our family for being ‘difficult’. Born into a working-class family living in Hurstville, Dorothy grew up in a very different Sydney to the over-crowed, realestate obsessed, would-be megalopolis of today. Her father, Herbert, was a Fitter-&-Turner/Machinist by trade, working at the Eveleigh Railway Workshops and Cockatoo Island shipyards. Herb met Dorothy’s mother, Phyllis, while travelling on a train to Sydney from northern New South Wales during the Depression in the late 1920s, both seeking work. Times were tough and money was tight when they married in 1931 but they lovingly raised their two daughters, Dorothy and her older sister, Judith. Leaving school in her mid-teens, like many young working-class women of the day, Dorothy undertook secretarial studies, dress-making and millinery at TAFE, while commencing work so as to contribute to the family home. Like so many of her peers in the post-WWII years, she was eager for adventure, leaving Sydney to travel with friends and seeking work further afield. When the Snowy Mountains Scheme officially commenced in 1949 it was the largest infrastructure project of its time and during its quarter century operations ‘over 100,000 men and women from more than 30 countries worked on the scheme.’ It was here that my mother and father, Joseph Croft (c. 1926 – 1996) met in 1959; she, a young Anglo-Australian woman just turned 21; he, an Aboriginal-Chinese-Irish/Australian man of 33. Their attraction was instant, evident in Kodachrome-saturated transparencies documenting their courtship in the late 1950s, early 1960s. She carefully, often wittily noted the occasion and subjects on the frames surrounding those jewel-like images. Most of those depicted had ‘foreign’ last names, ‘New Australians’ seeking refuge from homelands devastated during WWII; others following life and work opportunities offered by the Snowys’ Scheme.
What is apparent in the images of my mother is her joie de vivre, which my father described years after the end of their marriage as ‘a light, a spark, she stood out.’ The flip-side to this ‘light, spark’ revealed itself in unpredictable outbursts that had occurred from childhood. Their relationship was often volatile as was mine with my mother throughout her life. My mother was also an archivist and documenter extraordinaire – she kept cards and telegrams from significant life events: birthdays, illness, engagement, marriage, births and death of her children. She kept every payslip from her time working on the Snowy, along with annotated social magazines of Snowy staff. She kept pattern books, hand-cut patterns, recipes on cards and notepads, place cards from their wedding, a receipt and advertisement from the motel where they honeymooned. She kept notes from her children, our baby teeth and first dummy, locks of hair, baby shoes, advertisements for my first tricycle, documents recording the death of my brother Lindsay, preceding her by sixteen years. She collected cutlery, badged spoons, hand-bags, costume jewellery, dolls, children’s clothes, records, toys, books. She sent reel-to-reel and cassette tape letters to her parents from the other side of the country, west to east, then later, after we moved back to be closer to my grandparents because she was homesick, from south to north. Usually there is a group of us speaking together, but there are moments where she is talking alone and I picture her sitting in our caravan at Barlings Beach while we kids are off swimming, or at the kitchen table in Flynn as she looks out the window at the Brindabellas. She knitted and crocheted items for the everyday; coat-hanger covers; rugs, large and small; she ‘rescued’ unfinished craft projects from opportunity shops. She made children’s clothes and clothes for my toys – my teddy bear was attired in a three-piece suit. I loved to look through her pattern books from her TAFE days. She made potpourri in old tin containers, which she gave to people in hand-sewn parcels - hundreds were given out at my wedding a decade ago. I have jars in rooms around my house, opening and inhaling their old fashioned scent reminds me of her. My mother always loved her gardens. She saved and gave seeds from her favourite flowers to family: Forget-me-nots, Snowdrops, Freesias, Sweet Peas. She (and my father) loved old-style roses: Pink Peace, McCreedy’s Yellow (aka McGredy, McCready’s rose), Sutter’s Gold (golden yellow, rich orange accents - hybrid Tea rose), Charles Mallerin (Rich, dark velvety red, fragrant – Bush rose), New Yorker (Crimson Scarlett), First Love (Silvery Rose with lighter shadings), Iceberg (Very good white polyanthus), Beaute (Deep apricot shaded light red with faint tinge of pale yellow), Chrysler Imperial (Dark crimson), Virgo (Pure white), Christian Dior (Bright red), Piccadilly, Golden Sonne (Beautiful large yellow), Josephine Bruce (Deep velvety scarlet crimson), Super Star (Light yellow), Lilly Marlene (Rich Crimson) – plans and names hand-written in an exercise book detail the garden in our first family home in Perth in 1964, the year I was born. She wrote thousands of words in dozens of ‘spiritual diaries’, carefully numbered and stored. She kept old diaries and address books. She amended text in books sent to her, striking through whole sentences, heatedly adding her opinions. Reading letters that she wrote to me during times of anger, paranoia, delusion and/or depression still make my stomach constrict. Finding letters hidden in pockets in hand-knitted rugs years after her death bring me to tears. She was frugal and made every cent count; repairing and customising items owned for decades or sourced from op shops, her favourite haunts. She loved anything that glittered or sparkled; her walking frame was a riot of fake pearls, glittering butterflies, flags fluttering in the wind.
She loved long drives, watching the mountains and clouds she had photographed decades before, big skies rolling ahead of us enticingly. For her 70th birthday my brother Tim and I organised a three-day trip through the Snowy Mountains, visiting all the places from her time working on the Snowys’ Scheme nearly half a century earlier: Maneroo (Monaro), Ngambri, Ngarigo, Ngunnawal and Wiradjuri place names rolling off the tongue – Canberra (Ngambri/Camberry), Coolamatong, Cooma, Cabramurra, Jindabyne, Eucumbene, Yarrangobilly. Although we lived in the same town, she sent me a card, thanking my brother and I for her 3-day birthday celebration. Reading it I remember standing with her on a freezing winter’s day in June outside the former women’s hostel in Cooma where she had lived as a 21 year old. She wistfully wondered aloud - to nobody in particular - where had that half century gone? My parents had married on her 24th birthday so I knew she was also referring to my father. They finally divorced following a lengthy separation, preceded by years of unstable behaviour. Life was often tense, a sequence of arguments, or diversionary tactics attempting to avoid intense moments of drama. Imagined slights, misconstrued conversations, emotional outbursts and accusations overwhelmed our family. Although he remarried she never stopped loving him, attested to by the hundreds of crocheted crucifixes in the colours of the Aboriginal flag that she made for people attending his funeral in 1996. The remaining crucifixes exhibited are sentinels to their long-ago happiness. Since her death I have moved house and states many times with her belongings and the remainder of my grandparents’ possessions moving with me. Among my grandparents’ things were slides she had sent home, documenting her journey out in the world as the shining, happy, sociable young woman she then was. She is revealed laughing with family and friends, stylishly attired in clothes and hats created by her own hand. She and her friends, similarly shining, happy young women and men smile and laugh in Kodachrome glory - one can only wonder where they or their families are now. My mother is also often pictured cigarette in hand - a long-standing habit that caused her death at seventy-two. Although she had stopped smoking fifteen years earlier the damage was done. She had been ill for a long time without letting on, she did not like doctors and considered prayer the best healer. Sitting beside her hospital bed at night I watched as she sat up and, with eyes closed, swivelled her legs over the side and, with feet crossed, swung them back and forth like a little girl. She was already on her journey, beyond me; and I imagined her standing on a hill watching her beloved big skies and clouds. Documenting places were always important to my mother: home in Hurstville, before she departed for the Snowys, catching her first aeroplane; the location where she met my father, on her first day at the Snowys; ‘my creek’; on the road - to Canberra, places in the Snowys, the border in Queensland; vistas of, and from landmarks in a country-town, mid20th century Canberra; glorious summer and autumn colours at Yarrangabilly; proudly introducing my father to her family, their loving welcome, happy that she was happy after difficult times; visiting him in Queensland after a break in their relationship, travelling to places of significance in his teen and early adult years when he made his way as a supposed ‘orphan’; their engagement photographs in her family backyard. Such optimism, so many happy expectations of what lay ahead, the punishing times yet to set in.
Music was also important to my mother – she loved musicals, opera, popular singers, classical music, her name (maiden and married) and address carefully written on the covers of her records. Later on she confined her listening to religious music and doctrinal cassettes. As a young woman she loved to sing: I remember the songs she used to sing to me and my brothers when we were children - we each had our own song. I remember the songs we played at her funeral. I recall special moments: a day off school accompanying my mother to the cinema – seeing ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ as an 11-year old had a profound impact on my introduction to the world of adults, particularly those dealing with mental illness. A ‘Girls’ Night Out’ seeing Yehudi Menuhin at the Canberra Theatre around the same age – she leaned over to politely, but forcefully ask the woman in the seat next to me to stop tapping her eyeglasses on her teeth in time to the maestro’s playing. My mother’s voice would get a certain tone and I would shrink down into myself, willing the occasion to quickly pass. I remember being taught to drive by my mother in the family’s huge gold Kingswood Station wagon, taking the highway from Canberra to Cooma, the same road my parents drove two decades earlier when my father taught my mother how to drive. I recall her many letters to editors on subjects local and broad: the Stolen Generations and Sorry Day; suggesting local Councils fly the Aboriginal flag; grievances - over real or imagined slights - with local councils, church groups, or others. I have a copy of her 1972 prize-winning story to a women’s magazine, detailing my father’s life as a Stolen Generations’ member, the instigation for my mother organising our family travel to Darwin to be reunited with my father’s mother, Bessie in 1974. I remember her hand-written corrections to the white-washed primary school texts books of my childhood, which I was then tasked with handing in to my school teacher; shame-faced then, proud of her actions later on. I recall her social justice activism, small-scale in the scheme of things, but always there; her often irrational behaviour; her fierce intellect; her love of the absurd; her delight of KFC and lollies; her adoration of her longed-for grandchildren; her intense, sometimes skewiffed love for my brothers and me. We buried her in her silver sequinned sandshoes and I customised her coffin in the manner of her walking frame: purple, gold and silver sequins, sparkles, glitter adorned the white cardboard container. Instead of flowers or earth scattered onto her coffin, people sprinkled sequins and paste jewels – a friend quipped that any archaeological dig in centuries to come would cause people to wonder why King Tutankhamen’s sister was buried in the Sutherland Shire. In the years since my mother’s passing I have recycled some of the larger objects from her belongings - better they are useful than sit in a darkened storage unit. What I cannot part with are items with my mother’s, my father’s or my grandparents’ hand-writing, or objects which carry her scent, or jolt a childhood memory on my part. During her eulogy I read out a hand-written note I had found tucked into a hand-made rug: ‘You were my first Mother’s Day present, love always Mum’, followed by a smiling face with a halo above it. Complex, intense, loving, guarded, private, difficult and funny, Dorothy taught my brothers and I many things: ask questions if we do not understand, always be honest, act with integrity, show love and stand up for social justice. Although she and I could and did spend years not speaking, I love and miss her every day. Brenda L Croft July 2018
Family has been a consistent theme in Brenda L Croft’s work over more than 30 years. Series of work including White Wedding/Love Letters (1987), Family Album (1991), In My Father’s House and In my mother’s garden (1998) have inscribed a loving but uncompromising account of her heritage using photographs, slides, personal and public archives, audio and text that referenced the frequently traumatic experiences of many Aboriginal people, which also impacted nonIndigenous family members. Croft is a member of the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra peoples from the Northern Territory of Australia, and also has Anglo-Australian/German/Irish and Chinese heritage. heart-in-hand is an exhibition imbued with an extraordinary emotional investment as it marks the 80th anniversary of her late mother’s birth, articulating her story through the objects she made, collected, and the cultural activities through which she created an enduring living portrait of her family. Part nostalgia, part Wunderkammer, heart-in-hand is a tribute to Dorothy Jean Croft (née Stone) (1938-2010). Describing her mother as “passionate archivist, … talented craft-maker, gifted amateur photographer and dedicated writer …”, Croft’s museum of motherhood records and constructs a complex characterisation of a woman who was, “witty, whip-smart and generous, she was also mercurial, known within our family for being ‘difficult’.” Wunderkammer or cabinets of curiosities were encyclopaedic collections of objects belonging to the arts and sciences including historical/religious relics, objects from natural history, geology, ethnography, archaeology, as yet uncategorised. In Victorian times when the means of travel were limited, this essentially museological mode of presentation enabled audiences to have vicarious experience of worlds they could not otherwise know. The concept of Wunderkammer has been a useful tool for artists wishing to produce complex multifaceted installations that generate an atmospheric, yet concise, representation of their subject matter. Born in the final years of the Great Depression, Dorothy Croft grew up during a time in Australian history when every object pertaining to the family - particularly for families living on or below the breadline - carried great significance: while life was fleeting its broadly defined furnishings had at least an appearance of permanency. In a pre-consumer society of non-disposable ‘stuff’, it was women, housewives and mothers, who kept and maintained the family jewels, however modest. Life the 1950s and 60s came to be viewed through a filter of Kodachrome colour. An archivist extraordinaire, Dorothy Croft documented her life and times in the rich saturated hues of transparencies that would come to define an era. Her photographs detailing courtship with fiancé Joe Croft and later family events evoke this period with meticulous accuracy. It was not only the slides, however, that survived to keep the memories alive. Collections of letters and telegrams, pattern books, clothes, records, baby teeth and locks of hair, crocheted crosses and coat hanger covers complete a comprehensive portrait of family life. Her photographs and a vast collection of similarly ‘melancholy objects’ live on long after her death, having gained intensity with the passing of time. heart-in-hand is not simply a portrait of Dorothy and her family but a social historical snapshot of the Canberra region that reflects the ‘new Australia’ during a period of optimism and openness. As the unforgiving days of economic depression and war began to fade into memory, Dorothy Croft and many other women of the time were the catalysts of unparalleled social change that continues to impact on our lives today. While many items in Croft’s cabinet of curiosities seem idiosyncratic, Dorothy Croft represents many mid-century Australian women whose lives bridged old and new worlds. Audiences might initially be tourists in the Crofts’ reality but ultimately heart-in-hand brings them closer a common legacy passed down through our mothers and grandmothers. David Broker July 2018
heart-in-hand I (red, black & yellow), 2018 Installation: 39 crocheted crucifixes, wool & nylon
PREVIOUS PAGE: heart-in-hand (Canberra Contemporary Art Space exhibition installation), 2018 FOLLOWING PAGE: home-made I, 2018 Installation: cards (engagement, get well, marriage, Valentine, birthday); telegrams; recipe cards & notes; payslips; education certificates; photographs; hand-written notes; letters & envelopes; autograph book; drawings; Snowy Mountains Review magazines, 1959 â€“ 1961; ephemera, assorted
17.5.13 Today I walked for my mother along the cedar walk past the shepherd’s cottage that smells of mould powdery dust gritty underfoot I walked past the mob of ‘roos grazing in the cleared field alongside Bundanon, asleep in the shadows liquid eyes gazing at me disinterestedly, as long as I keep walking by a fly or bee buzzes me, oh it’s a fly dive-bombing then away lantana cleared moonscape letting light in from the river breathless on the rise up and around chatter of birdsong left and right and above crunch of tentative steps across dead stalks, twigs, leaves of lantana already new shoots sprung up bright, evil green, tenacious in their bed of broken sticks wind picks up again, hums and moans around my eyes and ears in the unseen distance the thwokthwok-thwok of a helicopter forty-nine years ago I emerged after a two-day battle back to front as has always been my wont the battle continued for the next forty-six years back and forth, love and hate anger and hurt, sorrow and joy my grandmother passed at the age of ninety-one, my mother sixty six then, seventy-two when she went I should have had another twenty years with her Today I walked for my mother at the river, on the lantana I said a little silent prayernot-prayer a remembrance thanking her for sending me into battle, even when it scarred us both wounds healed over, skin papery thin, she kicked her feet up in the hospital bed, sat up
straight, eyes shut tight, already on her journey to somewhere else and swung her feet back and forth, like a small child strength in those legs from another place wind picks up, the sound of a wombat in the undergrowth scratch, scratch, scratching his fur, hidden from me, not quite wind picks up as footsteps do Today I walked for my mother at the end her legs had failed her she did not walk without pain and breathlessness her insides were failing, fighting her she said to me one night, only the two of us in her little flat I’m scared Brenda; I know I said and that was that sitting in the chair beside her bed in a hospital in her childhood place, jacarandas were in bloom a lavender sea across the rooftops as I looked out from her window towards where she had grown up the scent of gardenias rose up in the heavy air from the carpark below she had torn the tubes from her arms, climbed out of bed, walked around unaided, no support, sat on her room-mate’s bed, then wandered out to the nurses’ station all the while her eyes closed tight I think her last words to me were along the lines of you two should get married, with a little smile, as she watched Rhys and I greet each other with a kiss then, silence, her world was inner she had already gone through whatever door had opened for her I plucked her eyebrows and chin hairs, we had cut and coloured her hair before the drive away from her flat, for good, no going back for her The mournful dirge of cawing crows calls me back Today I walked for my mother © Brenda L Croft
JODIE CUNNINGHAM Rachel [Data Portrait], 2017, acrylic perspex, bamboo, stainless steel, nickel and concrete, 21cm x 16cm x 15cm
JODIE CUNNINGHAM Bluebells [Data Portrait], 2017, acrylic perspex, bamboo, stainless steel, nickel and concrete, 16cm x 18cm x 18cm
hand-made, 2018 Installation: tools, assorted (Herbert Stone & Dorothy Croft) – chisels, hammers, rasps, pinking shears, rulers, pliers, sundry customised tools, assorted, circa 1930s – 1970s; Women’s Weekly Map of Australia, circa 1960s; wooden table, Laminex top & chair, stained by Dorothy Croft, early 1970s; Remington type-writer and Facit type-writer; letters
home-made II, 2018 Installation: Dress-maker’s stand, bridesmaid’s dress, 1957 (made by Dorothy Jean Stone); dress, circa mid 1950s (Dorothy Jean Stone); Singer sewing machine, circa 1930s; suitcases, circa 1930s, 1950s-60s; walking sticks; dress-maker’s rulers; cotton reels & bobbins, preserving jars; man’s night-shirt, circa 1960s; wooden coat-hangers, circa 1930s, 1950s
TOP ROW: Home Sydney, West Street, Hurstville, circa 1956 – 59, (Dorothy Jean Stone), Sunset – Home, West Street, Hurstville, circa 1956 – 59, (Dorothy Jean Stone), Dot 18, 1956, West Street, Hurstville, (photographer unknown), Dot 18, 1956, West Street, Hurstville, (photographer unknown), Tantangara Dam, Jan 1961, Dot & Joe met, 29/8/59, (Dorothy Jean Stone), Dot 21 and Joe 33 Cooma 1959, (Margaret Ashton)
BOTTOM ROW: Dot and Joe Christmas Day 1959 Sydney & Freckles, (photographer unknown), Nana, Joe, Gwen, Mum & Dad, Bulli Pass Lookout Dec. 1959, (Dorothy Jean Stone), [Mum, Royal National Park, Dec 1959?], (Joseph Croft), Joe - Thermal Pool Yarrangabilly Jan 1960, (Dorothy Jean Stone), Me - King’s Cross Jan. 1960 Joe’s car, (Joseph Croft), View from Snowy Mts. Highway near Cooma Jan 1960, (Dorothy Jean Stone)
TOP ROW: Mum, Dot, 21, Thredbo, 1959, (photographer unknown), Dot and Joe, Nov 59, Lookout, (photographer unknown), [Dot snow] Thredbo â€˜59, (photographer unknown), [Mum, camera, Thredbo, 1959], (photographer unknown), [Dot trout fishing Lake Eucumbene 1959], (photographer unknown), Highway to Canberra near Bredbo, 1959 (photographer unknown)
BOTTOM ROW: Yarrangabilly Caves area - ANZAC Weekend Autumn leaves 1960, (Dorothy Jean Stone), Joe - Tathra - NSW April 1960, (Dorothy Jean Stone), Joe on Razorback May 1960, (Dorothy Jean Stone), “A Beginner” Kings Cross Cabramurra October 1960, (Dorothy Jean Stone), [Mum Green Island Aug 1960], (Joseph Croft), Joe - Green Is.[land], Aug 1960, (Dorothy Jean Stone)
ABOVE AND RIGHT: Made in Australia I, (Canberra Contemporary Art Space exhibition installation) 2018 Installation, mixed media: slide night moving image screen projection (80 slides 1959 – 1962) (edited with assistance of Robert Nugent); 1950s slide projector; lamp, bookshelf, footstools (made by Dorothy Croft, circa early 1962 - 64); crocheted and knitted rugs (made by Dorothy Croft, circa 1992 – 2010); mid-20th century Parker lounge chairs; set of birds, set of ducks - ceramic wall ornaments, circa 1950s-60s; mid-20th century sideboard; assorted books, circa 1930s – 1970s; coasters, circa 1960s; glass cup and crocheted dust cover, circa 1960s; records – 45s, 78s, LPs.
FOLLOWING PAGE: heart-in-hand (Canberra Contemporary Art Space exhibition installation), 2018
Acknowledgments I pay my acknowledgements and respects to the traditional custodians of this region, the Ngambri, Ngunnawal, Ngunawal, Ngarigo peoples and associated clans; Elders, past and present, those emerging and strength to those of the future.
Thank you for allowing my family to live on and in your country, over time since the late 1950s. We love it here and will do our best to always treat it with care and never take it for granted. Heartfelt respects to other Indigenous people and all who visit and view heart-in-hand.
A special thanks to Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert, who was going to do the opening speech honours but family commitments took precedence, which is as it always should be. Another time, sis. NAIDOC Week’s theme this year is ‘Because of Her, We Can!’ which honours all Indigenous women for their invaluable, often unacknowledged contribution and commitment to our communities. I have somewhat riffed on the theme to pay tribute to my mother, Dorothy Jean Croft, who, although non-Indigenous, had a profound impact on the making of who I am as a woman of Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra/Chinese/Anglo-Australian/Irish/German heritage.
My mother, who died in 2010, would have been 80 this year and although she has always featured in my work, I
wanted to dedicate an exhibition to her life so that her grandchildren Luca, Sasha and Maddie would hopefully have a better sense of who she was and how she lived her life. She lives on in my brother and I and especially in them. Both my parents would have loved seeing how their grannies are developing into beautiful young people, proud of their Indigenous heritage, while also honouring all their relations. Heartfelt thanks to CCAS – especially to David Broker for the invitation to exhibit during NAIDOC Week, even though he initially didn’t realise that it would be, ha ha! Huge thanks to Alexander Boynes, Shags, Alex Asch, Bohao Jia.
To all those who helped me realise this exhibition and get what was inside my head and heart out and onto the walls and into the gallery space: •
Moving image editing – Rob Nugent, with very tight time-frame, as always;
for coming to the rescue with Adobe Photoshop tutorial.
• Audio work editing - Chris Bulloch for putting me onto Thomas Royds, who also produced the goods in a very tight time-frame; • Transport – Millan Pintos-Lopez and Kael for the heavy lifting; • Printing – Richard Crampton, Darkstar Digital Imaging, with very tight time-frame, post-operation; and Kelly Sturgiss,
To all those who helped me out after my recent operation and during my recuperation: Anne Brennan, Claire Cameron, my old school friend, Janine Clarke, the wonderful Kelli Cole & Anthony Hopkins and their boys, Jye and Ashton Janene Collins, Cheryl Crilly and Jose Robertson, Colleen Cunningham, Helen Ennis, Kirsten Farrell, Emily, Xavi and Isla, Shaune Lakin, Chaitanya Sambrani, Nancy Sever, my tireless neighbour Chiv Ly and his family.
A sincere thanks to my CAHAT (Centre for Art History & Art Theory), SOAD (School of Art & Design), CASS (College of Arts & Social Sciences), ANU colleagues for their support during these past few months.
Many thanks also to Bill Nuttall, Niagara Galleries, for coming up from Melbourne to support me. Most importantly, the reason for this exhibition, my family: first, my mother, Dorothy Jean; my father, Joseph; my brothers,
Lindsay and Timothy; my sister-in-law Tia, my nephew Luca, nieces Sasha and Maddie; my grandparents, Herbert and Phyllis Stone, and ‘Handsome Joe’ & Bessie Croft; my Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra family, on traditional homelands and further afield; my great-aunt, Gwen Mohr for illuminating my mother’s early life; my cousin Mark Skimmings and his wife Karen; and my beautiful boy Christopher, for making me laugh through all of this. During the installation he asked me,
‘Mummy, you miss your mum?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Where has she gone?’ & ‘How will you see her again?’ ‘She’s with me, inside my heart’. Finally, he said, ‘I miss her too’.
To friends of our family who are here tonight, especially those from Strehlow Place/Tillyard Drive, Flynn days – Jodie Cunningham and her mother Colleen, who cannot be here tonight; Michael Desmond, Janine Clarke, whose mother, Margaret was one of my mother’s best friends. I used to smoke Alpine ciggies with Janine’s mum and boy, did we get in trouble when we were teenagers…….., luckily we grew into fine young ladies! My warmest congratulations also to Amala Groom, who I’m very happy to be showing alongside. If I’ve left anybody out I apologise - it was unintentional and I’m so grateful to you all. I hope you enjoy learning a little bit about my talented, determined, dedicated, honest, funny, whip-smart, mercurial, complicated and complex mother. Here’s to Dorothy Jean, xoxoxo. Brenda L Croft July 2018
AMALA GROOM Does she know the Revolution is coming?
Manhattan N.Y.C 2015, in a house once occupied by actor, Katherine Hepburn, an ostensibly innocent conversation
took place. It was a conversation that could happen between any two people when one is the owner of an extremely expensive painting by an artist considered to be of major cultural significance. The original title of Does she know the Revolution is Coming?, “Have you seen my Emily?”, makes reference to a work by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, an
Anmatyerre artist from the Utopia community in Australia’s Northern Territory. Her evocative paintings, capturing the physical and spiritual atmosphere of Alhakere country, had become so famous, that there are people who think it unnecessary to speak her full name. One of Kngwarreye’s paintings, belonging to a local collector, accompanies this exhibition and, in this instance, Awelye (1990) anchors Amala Groom’s installation to its conceptual objectives.
The occasion was a reception for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples attending The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII or PFII) hosted by a former Australian Prime Minister and his partner. Attending in an unofficial capacity, it was Groom’s last representation at the forum and after the opening ceremony, she visited New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art only to find herself distressed by a vast collection of stolen cultural artefacts. Thus the scene was set for contentious conversation the following afternoon. Groom acknowledges her Wiradjuri ancestors,
“the old people” for guiding her to an event at which she would feel uncomfortable while instinctively understanding there was a portentous purpose for her presence. The reception marks a turning point for Groom, an interlude between her careers as an advocate for Indigenous rights and artist; two vocations that would ultimately become intertwined in Does she know the Revolution is coming? (2017).
In a room of Elders, some of the Stolen Generations, others who had grown up on missions, the drinks and pleasantries
flowed amongst self-congratulatory speeches by the host. Groom, sitting next to the hostess, the wife of a former Prime Minister, entered into a discussion that encompassed those forbidden zones of mannerly social exchange, religion and politics. As the continuation of Australia’s controversial Northern Territory National Emergency Response (also known as The Intervention) initiated by Prime Minister John Howard in 2007 and implemented under the Labor Rudd Government
reared its ugly head, small talk inflated when focused on the more disquieting issues of the day. In a hasty retreat Groom is asked “What do you do for a job?”. On the surface a most innocuous question, the answer to which, contains the ingredients for economic and social validation. In certain circles, “I make political art”, could denote a questionable contribution to the GDP and society generally. Having seen the 2nd National Indigenous Art Triennial, unDISCLOSED
(2012) at the National Gallery of Australia, with provocative works by artists such as Tony Albert, Vernon Ah Kee and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, the hostess notes a thread of anger in its emphasis on social and political commentary pertaining to Indigenous Australians. For Groom such opinion is an anathema since she considers what others see as “very angry” to be artists simply providing an accurate reflection of the enduring impacts of colonialism and the ongoing trauma experienced by Aboriginal peoples.
As the moment arrives for another rerouting of an increasingly awkward exchange, comes the clincher, “Have you seen my Emily?” referring to a painting in pride of place on the wall of an adjacent room. While it was never Kngwarreye’s intention, the collector might bathe in the glory of this painting as it projects an essential Australianess and altruistic credibility while also reflecting significant wealth. This is another harmless enough question never intended to hurt, however, Groom describes it as, “like a spear to the soul”. At this point it is important to point out that she is quick to
explain that her hostess is “a very nice woman”. The critique contained within Does she know the Revolution is coming? is not personal, but rather it is aimed at a broad section of society and in particular those who might collect or deal with
Aboriginal art as a status symbol. Groom questions the motivation of collectors who acquire works for investment and prestige; often to the detriment of artists who remain impoverished despite having sold their rapidly appreciating works.
While all Aboriginal art could be described as political, the work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye is not overtly didactic in the way of many of her ‘angry’ contemporaries. Thus Groom identifies an element of disengagement on the part of the hostess for whom the painting is safe, othering and a time capsule of romanticism. In other words, one can appreciate Aboriginal cultures minus the anger, oblivious to a dark colonial past and without feeling threatened or guilty.
In her six-channel video Groom performs the roles of hostess and herself in a piece of verbatim documentary theatre
that is based on the spoken words of non-fictitious characters. The banter between the six figures that representing elements of character and conversation is razor sharp and weaves a highly constructed, complex web of linguistic duplicity that perpetuates a colonial power play. This performance could not happen without sophisticated memory of what was said, acting ability, champagne props, tailored power costumery and a passion for the subject matter that becomes an incisive exposé of the way non-Indigenous Australians claim Aboriginal cultures as something that
can be possessed. As Groom says, “I do not own my own culture, my own culture owns me ..…”. At the heart of this
conversation lies the assumption that one of the speakers has sufficient socio-economic privilege to own a slice of the other’s culture. This is exacerbated when the addressee is of that culture and therefore by default, also ‘owned’. The reconstruction of this conversation replicates a colonial script that is adhered to in a myriad of encounters that First Peoples experience on a daily basis.
Does she know the Revolution is coming? reconstructs the original dialogue so that it might be deconstructed to reveal, “ … what we said”, “…what we are saying”, and “…what we are really saying”. In her video, Groom seizes the opportunity to tip the scales of power by overlaying the original text with her thoughts and ideas about what is said. Her skilful use
of dramatic irony–where the meanings contained within the character’s words or actions are clear to the audience but not to the other speaker–effectively turn the tables on a well-worn libretto of colonial domination. In many respects, her role as an advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples is consolidated in this work as it travels and is seen by audiences across the nation. Seducing the viewer with humour, Groom exploits an effective political weapon in bringing
about change to what often appear to be irreversibly established attitudes. Taking the piss out of what must have been a rather tedious soireé, where guests and hosts are dutifully polite is something we can all relate to. However, before
nine minutes and fifty six seconds have elapsed it is clear that Groom’s story is allegorical and her characters represent conflicting values. Their critique does not so much target “the wife of a former Prime Minister” but all Australians over whom the colonial cloud still hangs. What I am really saying is, Do we know the Revolution is coming? But then, perhaps it is already here. David Broker July 2018
Production Credits Commissioned by Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre
Filming supported by CuriousWorks Emily Kame Kngwarreye artwork loan courtesy of Simon Chan – Art Atrium Curated by Adam Porter Videographer: Adam McPhilbin Editor: Elias Nohra
Hair and Make up: Shannon O’Reilly Artist Assistant: Kristine Townsend Production stills: Hamish Ta-mé
PREVIOUS PAGE: Does she know the Revolution is coming? (Production still), 2017, Image credit Hamish Ta-MÃ©
Does she know the Revolution is coming? 2018, (Exhibition installation, Canberra Contemporary Art Space)
ABOVE: EMILY KAME KNGWARREYE
Awelye, 1990, Synthetic polymer paint on linen, 122cm x 91cm Provenance: Delmore Gallery Cat No OL24 On loan from the collection of Simon Chan, Director Art Atrium, Sydney
ABOVE: AMALA GROOM Does she know the Revolution is coming? (Production still), 2017, Image credit Hamish Ta-MÃ©
BRENDA L CROFT heart-in-hand AMALA GROOM Does she know the Revolution is coming?
ESSAYS BY DAVID BROKER CATALOGUE BY ALEXANDER BOYNES PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRENTON McGEACHIE
FRIDAY 13TH JULY - SATURDAY 8TH SEPTEMBER 2018 CANBERRA CONTEMPORARY ART SPACE GORMAN ARTS CENTRE, 55 AINSLIE AVENUE BRADDON, CANBERRA ACT 2612 TUESDAY - SATURDAY, 11am - 5pm
CCAS IS SUPPORTED BY THE ACT GOVERNMENT, AND THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT THROUGH THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL, ITâ€™S ARTS FUNDING AND ADVISORY BODY.