DR Amanda Gardiner is giving a voice to a forgotten – and unlikely – group of women of WA history.
Through sculpture, painting, photography and sound, the ECU Post Doctoral Research Fellow spotlights the taboo and harrowing stories of mothers who killed their children in colonial WA.
“As part of my research, I’ve seen how badly these women were treated and the social context they found themselves in,” Gardiner said.
“This exhibition takes something pretty scary for people and through context makes it less scary.”
Gardiner found 55 cases linked to the crime of infanticide that occurred between 1829 and 1901.
The link between all of them was that the children were illegitimate.
“I’ve read a lot of court documents and the feeling I got over and over again was that these women were desperately scared: they didn’t know what to do,” Gardiner said.
“We don’t realise in the present how incredibly scandalous it was and what a horrible woman you were if you had sex outside of marriage.
“These women knew there was no social security, no way they would be able to support the child and they themselves would be socially ostracised.”
To draw out the emotional complexities of her subject, Gardiner sought six WA artists to present their works in the exhibition The Spaces Between Us.
“I knew I was asking a lot of the artists – to engage with this heavy material – so I chose artists I knew would be able to do that,” she said.
“They are also artists who are really engaged with WA stories.
“I took them to colonial locations and we looked at colonial artwork, costumes, court documentation, photographs and cemeteries.”
One of the artworks is a collection of 55 bonnets, one for each baby.
Dr Amanda Gardiner