Used for thousands of years by Aboriginal people, the melaleuca (paperbark tree) is a resource for cooking, shelter and medicine. Only found on the east coast of Australia, the distinctive texture of the bark acts as a locational beacon. To non-indigenous people who live in its habitat, it is familiar but perhaps largely ignored.
In this series titled Melaleuca, I have appropriated iconic Australian paintings, transforming them with paperbark and drawing, into new images where the various elements converse. That conversation asks the viewer to consider how we see these paintings in the context of a perhaps felt but seldom discussed relationship between non-indigenous Australian culture and the physical place in which it dominates.
I am positioning my work in a context where colonialism remains an unresolved stain on our country. Through these images I am repositioning the Australian understanding of culture and ownership.
The paintings, which look to history, contemporary life, optimism, melancholy and tragedy have been raised to speak for our culture, thereby framing the boundaries of mainstream understanding of Australia as a place. The new images ask if the values and esteem we hold are worthwhile or just discounting a more important value.
I wanted to ask the viewer to consider why we hold such esteem for those works (what they represent) and ask them to consider that our natural environment has been the source of culture for millennia and that perhaps there should be a greater dialogue between place and our values.
My traced drawings bring attention to aspects of the paintings which emphasise our cultural esteem. The bark fills in the space occupied by the paintings, taking over the plane and setting up the dialogue, It looks back at the viewer from a position of authenticity and naturalness and establishes a self-reflexive gaze. It interacts with the man-made, manufactured quality of the paintings. The interaction asks questions about the tension between what we see/believe, whose culture it is and what ‘real’ Australian culture actually is.