Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Brenda L. Croft, She never got used to the heat from the se­ries Colour b(l)ind (1998). Col­lec­tion of the Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory. Pur­chased 2000. On dis­play in ex­hi­bi­tion Hot! High­lights from the MAGNT Art Col­lec­tion, MAGNT, Dar­win, un­til Au­gust 13. Brenda L. Croft’s ear­li­est mem­o­ries of grow­ing up in the sub­urbs of Perth in the 1960s are of “care­free days” — the white heat of high sum­mer and learn­ing to swim at the beach.

But Croft also re­mem­bers how her mother, Dorothy, was scru­ti­nised by the neigh­bours be­cause she was a white woman mar­ried to Joseph, an Abo­rig­i­nal man. Croft re­mem­bers the snide re­marks made by the neigh­bours and how, at one stage, her mother was re­ported to the author­i­ties and falsely ac­cused of ne­glect­ing her chil­dren. Her mother’s silent re­sponse was to en­sure that both the house and yard were spot­less, her chil­dren im­mac­u­lately dressed and well-man­nered.

“As the el­dest child, I be­came aware from a young age of the silent ac­cus­ing stares di­rected to­wards my fam­ily and learned to stare right back,” Croft writes of her child­hood in Don’t Go Kiss­ing at the Gar­den Gate. “Hand­some black man mar­ried to young white woman dar­ing to try and build a happy home was al­ways beyond the pale for many of our neigh­bours: no mat­ter where we lived, how well we chil­dren were dressed or how gor­geous the gar­den grew.”

From those early days in Perth, Croft went on to be­come an artist, cu­ra­tor and aca­demic. She was a found­ing mem­ber of the Booma­lli Abo­rig­i­nal Artists Co-op­er­a­tive in Syd­ney, and her work is in all ma­jor pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions. One of her im­ages, She never got used to the heat, from Dar­win’s Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory col­lec­tion, is on dis­play in Hot! High­lights from the MAGNT Art Col­lec­tion.

She never got used to the heat is from the se­ries Colour B(l)ind and was first shown in 1998 in a solo ex­hi­bi­tion, In My Father’s House. Af­ter Croft’s father died in 1996, she de­cided to ex­plore her ances­try in a se­ries of multi-lay­ered im­ages in­cor­po­rat­ing text and pho­to­graphs. Her father, a Gurindji man, was taken from his fam­ily when he was just 18 months old un­der the gov­ern­ment pol­icy that al­lowed for the re­moval of Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren from their fam­i­lies. Her mother, of An­glo-Aus­tralian, Celtic and Ger­man her­itage, grew up in Syd­ney. Dorothy and Joseph met while work­ing on the Snowy Moun­tains Hy­dro-elec­tric Scheme, then moved to Perth and had three chil­dren.

The gallery’s cu­ra­tor of Aus­tralian art, Wendy Gar­den, says Croft’s work is very auto- bi­o­graph­i­cal and usu­ally fo­cuses on her father’s story, but She never got used to the heat is dif­fer­ent be­cause it fo­cuses on the ex­pe­ri­ences of Croft’s mother.

“Aus­tralia of course in the 1960s was a very nar­row, dis­ap­prov­ing place and this work is about the heat that her mother felt by the neigh­bours watch­ing and be­ing very dis­ap­prov­ing of the choices she had made by mar­ry­ing an Abo­rig­i­nal man,” Gar­den says.

“Re­turn­ing to Perth as an adult, Croft went back to her mother’s gar­den, which was ex­actly as she re­mem­bered it. By com­bin­ing a re­cent pho­to­graph of the gar­den with old fam­ily snapshots and text, Croft con­sid­ers the frag­mented na­ture of mem­o­ries.”

Gar­den de­scribes She never got used to the heat as a strong work.

“The sur­face of this print is just ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful,” she says. “The cop­pery qual­i­ties just glow. It is a very so­phis­ti­cated work that en­cour­ages you to ac­tu­ally look at what’s go­ing on. Your eye is con­stantly go­ing around the work look­ing at the var­i­ous el­e­ments of text and the faint pho­to­graph of her mother in the back­ground. It is very evoca­tive and has a re­ally sub­tle el­e­gance to it. At the same time, it ra­di­ates this warmth. It re­ally does cap­ture that sense of that glow­ing yel­low heat and sun.”

Il­fachrome print, 81.5cm x 54.4cm

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