Review: Brenda L. Crofts Mixes the Personal and the Political in Two Exhibits in Canberra | Canberra weather


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‘Hand / Made / Held / Ground’ & Made in Australia Series II, Brenda L. Croft. Canberra Museum & Gallery, until January 22. ‘hand / made / held / ground’ is a major work by leading contemporary artist, Brenda L. Croft, a Gurindji / Malngin / Mudburra woman whose background also includes Australian, Chinese, English, German and Irish heritage. This mixed media installation explores Croft’s intimate patrilineal relationship and his return to his father’s country and his own, sharing something of that lineage connection and his journey. He reinvents and honors customary objects – jimpila (spearhead) and kurrwa (stone ax) – created on their homelands of Gurindji in the Northern Territory. The contemporary representations on display reflect ancestral journeys – taken on traditional lands and back home. When, and by whom, the stone ax was created is unknown. However, the ax is known to have survived over 130 years of pastoral impact before being found by Croft when she visited the remote site where it was located. The tip of the spear was given to Croft in the temporary custody of a supporter (Lyn Riddett) of the Wave Hill exit led by Vincent Lingiari. Riddett received the spear as a gift from a Daguragu elder in 1971. Over the following years, the tip of the spear was accidentally shattered before it could be repatriated to the community of Gurindji, via Croft. While guarding the spear, Croft repaired it with wax and had it made into a wax mold, as well as a stone ax mold. Courtesy of family and community members, she used these molds to create several copies of these important cultural objects – black and red lead crystal, axes and spear points made of clear glass and uranium. It is these copies, presented on a combination of new and aged steel plinths echoing steel water tanks, that we see in this exhibition. Each is individually illuminated from within revealing various colors, their configuration representing constellations in a night sky. In addition to the kurrwa and jimpila pieces, large satellite images displayed on the gallery walls map the journeys undertaken by Croft, sometimes alone and sometimes accompanied by his family and members of the Gurindji community. These maps, along with the ax and spear point copies, reveal a connection between earth and sky. When the lights of the mussels turn on and off, their beats synchronize with the ancient footsteps on the earth and symbolize the heartbeats of the owners of the objects. In an adjacent space, Croft presents eight works from Croft’s Made in Australia II series, held in the gallery’s collection. It is an interesting and clever juxtaposition of two sets of works of art. Made in Australia II was produced by Croft to honor his mother, who advocated for social equity at the local level, while ensuring that her children are proud of their heritage. A non-native woman, Dorothy Jean Croft broke with tradition in Sydney – she found love with a Gurindji / Malngin / Mudburra man, Joseph Croft. They married and raised a family together, living in many parts of Australia including Canberra. Artist Croft celebrated his mother’s story by enlarging his original brightly colored 35mm Cibachrome slides from the 1950s and 1960s into photographic prints that testify to the strength and power of his parents’ relationship, quietly played out in this heart of the nation. Together, these two bodies of Croft’s work celebrate both the masculine and feminine lines of his kinship histories, while highlighting some of our nation’s tensions: lives impacted by stolen generations, return to homelands. traditional traditions, the affirmation of the independence of women and the breaking down of class and racial barriers.

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