‘Powerful’ new art for SAM
Shepparton Art Museum’s latest acquisition depicts the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 through an indigenous lens. SAM director Rebecca Coates said Cook’s
Landing 2018 by Wathaurung/Wadawurrung artist Marlene Gilson was a powerful conversation piece that invited audience engagement.
‘‘As well as being a marvellous work by an important Australian artist, the acquisition signals Shepparton Art Museum’s commitment to supporting Aboriginal artists from South-East Victoria, through the acquisition of work and programming,’’ Dr Coates said.
‘‘It enables us to engage with ideas central to our place, people and context, and a broader First Nations discussion.’’
Ms Gilson lives on her home Country Wathaurung/Wadawurrung in the small rural town of Gordon, 25 km east of Ballarat.
As a child, Ms Gilson’s grandmother made sure she would know about her ancestors, their history and culture through storytelling, at times by drawing in the sand.
It was Ms Gilson’s family that encouraged her to take up painting 10 years ago as a way to occupy her mind as she overcame a serious illness.
Through art she was able to continue her inherited storytelling abilities by painting wooden blocks carved by her husband Barry in various shapes, depicting whole scenes of little villages for her grandchildren.
Cook’s Landing 2018 is a re-imagined scene of Captain James Cook and the First Fleet arriving at Botany Bay in 1788.
Dr Coates said in selecting the work, SAM curators had noted Ms Gilson’s work challenged mainstream historical narratives, in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and experiences had often been absent or played a peripheral role.
The work depicts Aboriginal people in a traditional setting, as well as dressed as Captain Cook and those of the First Fleet arriving and setting up camp.
Curators had noted this approach was similar to that of Australian documentary filmmaker Don Featherstone, whose 1986 film BabaKiueria featured the late Bob Maza alongside several other notable First Peoples as central characters dressed in historic British military uniform, similar to that worn by the First Fleet.
Curators had also noted the use of satirical humour in this work is both a cultural expression and a gesture to invite appreciation of the power structures at play.
Dr Coates said the artist’s use of humour allowed the audience to engage with the work in a light-hearted way, but cleverly about a significant event in history.
She said the work was an important acquisition for the museum.
‘‘Marlene’s paintings are whimsical, wonderful, and importantly, enable us to reimagine Australia’s history from various points of view,’’ she said.
Regarding the price paid for the painting, Dr Coates said negotiations with artists on buying artworks always remained confidential.
‘‘But I can say, this artwork is exceptional value for money,’’ Dr Coates said.
New addition: SAM’s latest acquisition — Cook’s Landing 2018 —