By Fran Strachan, UNSW Newsroom.
Artist, curator and researcher Brenda L. Croft’s latest exhibition is an “angry howl” at the historic and continuing mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in Australia, including many members of her own family.
subalter/N/ative dreams is a brutally honest series of self-portraits, captured on traditional homelands and in displaced communities, featuring Croft staring down the the camera lens, defiant and unapologetic.
In shut/mouth/scream, Croft’s face echoes an archival image of her paternal grandmother taken as part of a medical research expedition documenting diseases in dislocated Aboriginal communities. The original photo was taken at Kahlin Aboriginal Compound in Darwin where Croft’s grandmother and father had been taken in the late 1920s.
“This was the era when Indigenous people were dehumanised and basically framed as remnants of a dying race – and, as we’ve seen this week with the ABC Four Corners revelations of human rights abuses to Indigenous children and youth in detention in the NT – little has changed."
Croft describes her version of the photo as an angry howl at the abject treatment meted out not only to her grandmother and other family members, but to all Indigenous peoples impacted by authoritarian regimes.
Part of the photographic series features images of Croft drawn from original wet plate collodian processes (tin and ambrotypes), labelled with phrases used to describe her father and family members – ‘full-blood’, ‘half-caste’, ‘quarter-caste’, ‘quadroon’ and ‘Abo’.
“I want to challenge the debasing classifications used to subjugate Indigenous people now, as in the past, while also highlighting there is no single Indigenous way of being,” says Croft, an Adjunct Research Fellow at UNSW Art & Design.
Croft has worked closely with her family and community at Wave Hill and Victoria River regions in the Northern Territory, and also with dispossessed Gurindji community members, during her practice-led research for subalter/N/ative dreams.
The timing of the exhibition is significant for the artist and the nation; it is the 20th anniversary of the death of her father Joe, a member of the Stolen Generations, the 40th anniversary of the NT Land Rights Act and the 50th anniversary of the Gurindji Walk-Off from Wave Hill Station on 23 August, 1966.
With a diverse career as an artist, researcher and independent curator, Brenda L. Croft has been creating multi-disciplinary, multi-platform work for more than three decades. In 2015 she received a National Indigenous Arts Award Fellowship from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts in recognition of her practice. She is a member of the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra peoples from the Northern Territory of Australia, and of Anglo-Australian/German/Irish heritage. Her artworks draw on personal and public archives and explore issues faced by contemporary Indigenous peoples and the ongoing impact of colonisation in Australia since 1788. Through her work she aims to give “a voice to the voiceless, making the invisible visible”.
subalter/N/ative dreams continues until 27 August at STILLS Gallery, Sydney.