Australia’s TarraWarra Museum of Art hosts a 12-year survey exhibition of contemporary indigenous artist Danie Mellor.
Australian artist Danie Mellor’s 12-year survey exhibition runs at the TarraWarra Museum of Art from 10 May to 27 July 2014. The exhibition showcases a diverse practice of sculpture, mixed-media watercolours and trademark blue-and-white drawings that offer a captivating perspective on history and postcolonial identity.
Entitled “Danie Mellor: Exotic Lies Sacred Ties”, the exhibition divides 50 paintings and installations into engaging themes. The works are drawn from public and private collections and together form the first large-scale retrospective reviewing Danie Mellor’s significant contributions to contemporary Australian art.
On tour from the University of Queensland Art Museum, the exhibition will next show at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory from 29 August to 16 November 2014.
When blue meets white
Mellor’s signature blue-and-white colour scheme appropriates the design of willow-patterned china manufactured by the English firm Spode in the late eighteenth century: the time of European settlement in Australia. The blue landscapes represent colonisation’s damage to the green Queensland environment. In an intriguing hybridisation of Aboriginality and colonial history, Mellor weaves his own narratives by inserting colourful animals and Aborigines into the tableaux, parodying the way European culture imposed itself on Australia’s inhabitants.
In curator Maudie Palmer’s words,
His visual narrative relies on manipulating British imagery from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, specifically iconography borrowed from blue and white Spode china, which he layers with his own record of the cultural differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.
All that glitters is not gold
Mellor’s canvases are laced with glitter, Swarovski crystals and flower borders set in ornate gold frames reminiscent of the Imperial era. Where there are animals, they are seldom threatening, appearing whimsical and even kitschy, inviting the viewer into the picture. This friendliness, combined with the exquisite beauty of surface material, seduces and disarms the viewer, and the darker themes – death, loss of culture, and the dislocation of natives from their native lands – quietly sink in without warning.
In From rite to ritual (2009), which won the prestigious Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islander Art Award in 2009, Mellor portrays a graceful yet quietly sinister amalgamation of indigenous and Masonic initiation tropes. The ambitious and powerful work explores the uneasy encounter between indigenous and settler cultures, spiritual traditions, and ceremonies.
The large skull in Piccaninny paradise (2010) invokes a clear message of mortality, alluding to the fact that Aborigines were treated as specimens instead of people.
Exotic lies and sacred ties
In the installation Exotic lies and sacred ties (the heart that conceals, the tongue that never reveals) (2008), the piece from which the show takes its title, Mellor directly confronts the viewer’s blindness to history and the lies of the past. The work mimics a museum diorama and critiques the depiction of Aboriginal people as exotic curiosities.
Meanwhile, three kangaroos in Red, white and blue (2008) close their eyes to the injustices of war and degradation, themselves encrusted in the three colours of colonising flags.
Though dealing with weighty issues, Mellor’s work remains humorous, layered with witticisms: in The native’s chest (2010) an emu stands on a sign that reads “CULTURED”, and Advance Australia fair (2008) features a golden mosaic kangaroo holding a gold rifle on a neon word “illumined”.
Finally, Anima (2014), a recently completed chromed-bronze sculpture of a malformed kangaroo, embodies the gist of Mellor’s message. With truncated limbs and ears, the hollow gaze of the deformed creature prompts a compelling interrogation into the icons and received history of Australia.
About the artist
Born in Queensland to an Irish and Scots Aboriginal mother, Danie Mellor’s powerful visual language stems from a deep concern about his own indigenous heritage. An academic and an artist, Mellor is mindful of his role in both art and education. He said in an interview with Craft Australia that
Whether as part of exhibiting or publishing research, my position involves story-telling and narration that takes into account shared histories. My background enables a perspective and career that is unique, but it’s one that is part of a greater whole that includes the voices of other artists.
- “My Country”: Indigenous Australian art in Auckland – in pictures – April 2014 – Auckland Art Gallery exhibits nearly 100 works by 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artists from 28 March to 20 July 2014, the largest ever show of aboriginal art in New Zealand
- Disrupted Choreographies from Vietnam – in pictures – March 2014 – Vietnamese artists offer alternative views of colonisation and history in an exhibition in France
- Australia is not an island: Contemporary art futures across the Archipelago – Curator John Mateer – November 2013 – curator John Mateer reassesses ideas of Australia’s art, re-imagining the region not as an isolated landmass but as an archipelago of cities culturally connected to the wider world
- How do you solve a problem like “Australia”? Royal Academy curator on the pain and pleasure of ‘nation shows’ – interview – October 2013 – curator Kathleen Soriano reveals the drives and difficulties behind “Australia” at London’s Royal Academy of the Arts
- Keeping it clean: Indian artist Krishnaraj Chonat on changing histories – video interview – September 2013 – Bangalore based multimedia artist Krishnaraj Chonat looks at the effects of urbanisation on the diverse Indian landscape
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