Review: D Harding with Kate Harding Through a Lens of Visitation, Chau Chak Wing Museum
Entering D and Kate Hardings Through a lens of the hauntingKate’s textile works cylinder (2020) was the first thing that caught my attention. Higher than the surrounding works, it draws attention with its bold geometric designs in green and ocher, contrasting with the more organic palette of the surrounding works.
D Harding is a star of contemporary Australian art with a thriving international profile. Her mother Kate is a textile artist who in recent years has used quilts to tell stories about family and country.
Showing the connections between a mother and child and the culture that forged them, this exhibition highlights the contribution of Indigenous women.
D and Kate Harding are descendants of the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples and have strong and ongoing ties to the internationally important heritage site of Carnarvon Gorge in central Queensland.
The gorge attracts tourists for its natural and cultural values and is known for its exceptional rock art. However, the tourist lens has often obscured the spiritual significance to the indigenous people. This exhibition and accompanying publication corrects this view by emphasizing the vibrant culture of the indigenous peoples from different angles.
Combining the artists’ indigenous culture with rigorous scholarship, this exhibition challenges Australian art history.
A hilly landscape
The exhibition consists mainly of textile works by both artists, accompanied by two large-format paintings by D.
Throughout the exhibition, object and textile works are placed on densely assembled plinths of varying heights.
Pedestals are the usual white supports used to ensure that sculptural work and statues can be examined closely. Most viewers don’t even notice them. But in D’s work, the line separating the pedestal from the work is blurred.
Exhibition view by D Harding with Kate Harding: Through a Lens of Visitation at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Photo: David James
Upon entering, the lowest pedestal is closest to the entrance, and the tallest – at a height of two meters – is in the back corner farthest from the entrance. This creates a hilly landscape for the audience when entering the gallery, inviting us to explore.
D told the audience at the opening that the plinths signal “hierarchies of caring.” They adopted this gallery convention to showcase Indigenous culture with the same care reserved for classic treasures. Interventions such as these contradict the way museums have historically presented First Nations culture as anonymous ethnographic curiosities.
attention to the object
In the center of the base field are two wrapped objects that remain secret, neatly wrapped as by a restorer preparing for safekeeping.
The wall text reveals what the audience can’t see: two of D’s 2018 works Untitled cloak and oppressive cloak (Ceremony for a gay wedding). On the remaining plinths in the Penelope Gallery are six textile works, visible but neatly folded to obscure the view.
Exhibition view by D Harding with Kate Harding: Through a Lens of Visitation at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Photo: David James.
The wrapped objects are reminiscent of Christo and Jeanne-Claude drawing attention to the object and prompting the audience to look at what has been overlooked. D’s packaging protects Indigenous knowledge not intended for general consumption and ensures cultural safety.
This is most evident in an edited reproduction of a photograph of Carnarvon Gorge: what is kept from view can be just as meaningful as what is on display.
The exhibition makes you think. Each of the works on display has been developed through years of sustained practice with a deep respect for their materials, local knowledge, songlines and indigenous cultural practices.
In Kate’s textile work, this quest is accomplished through a series of quilts that use natural dyes, including the bold angular geometry of carnarvone (2020) on the more organic shapes that dominate White Hill – looking for food in Clermont (2020). Her works are stylistically diverse and each convey different storylines.
In this exhibition, D’s acclaimed painting practice is accompanied by textile work, often making the work of the two artists indistinguishable. This is most evident in Emetic Painting (International Rock Art Red and White) (2020), whose shapes and colors harmonize with those in Kate’s quilts.
The potential of materials to convey historical stories becomes clear Blue ground/dissociative (2017), which uses white ocher on a captivating ground of Reckitt’s blue and hints at the diverse traditions that inform this exhibition.
Left to right: D Harding, Blue ground/disociative 2017 and Kate Harding, Carnarvon Underground Water 2020. Exhibition view by D Harding with D Harding with Kate Harding: Through a Lens of Visitation at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Photo: David James
The individual works, their careful presentation in this exhibition and the publication demonstrate a deep respect for both the language of contemporary art and indigenous traditions.
It’s a significant achievement.
D Harding with Kate Harding: Through a Lens of Visitation is now on view at the Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney.
Scott East, Lecturer, UNSW Sydney
This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.