Your World is my Oyster (Cove)
After the ‘Black Wars’ of the mid 1820’s to early 1830’s in Tasmania, many of the surviving Aboriginal peoples were interned at Wyballena on Flinders Island in Bass’ Strait where over one hundred died due to the poor conditions. In 1847, with the Flinders Island settlement deemed a failure, the remaining population were decamped to Oyster Cove, an old convict station near Hobart.
Questions of responsibility were uppermost in my mind when I made Your World is my Oyster (Cove) (2016-17). The title Your World is My Oyster (Cove), is a play on the phrase ‘The world is your oyster’, meaning that the subject of the phrase may have anything they desire. The title speaks across time to property ownership, privilege, and entitlement. My title places myself (and also any viewer) in the picture as the property owner, she who is able to desire and own, while ‘your world’ addresses across time the Aboriginal figures in the painting whose possession of their world was at the time of their internment at Oyster Cove, increasingly threatened.
Oysters are a rich, succulent food associated with wealth and opulence and they are endemic to Tasmanian waters. The insides of the shells are pearlised and lustrous while the contrasting exterior is all sharp, angular edges reflecting the tension between the beauty of this environment and its terrible history. All the oyster shells below the painting are empty, shucked: they have been stripped of their bounty and discarded like ruins; they are the trace of history. The shells in the work come from the waterway shared by the cove. The locale is an important component in the work, embedding place as a strategic element within it. Sand is mixed with the paint to create texture and volume. The paint is applied with palette knives of different sizes but also (in the case of the figures) with small brushes giving contrast between the faces and the surrounding surfaces. The faces were executed with care to show sensitivity to eyes and mouths especially as these are the areas of the human face that tend to convey emotion most expressively.
I wanted to show care and respect for the memory of these people whose plight I was responding to. Although the figures are over-painted and partially obscured to indicate the difficulty one has in reaching truths about people who inhabit the past, there are eyes and lips clearly visible. The eyes looking out from the painting meet those of viewers returning our gaze and yet they are lost to us through the ‘impossibility of mourning’ and the distance of time. Pairing the shells from the waterway with the relatively traditional ‘history painting’ above them creates a little ‘shock’ in a viewer’s experience. This combination of two elements that are not usually found together provides a challenge to viewers so that they must make meaning of their relationship to one another. In Deluezean terms, two disparate sensations are brought into contact on the plane of composition to create a new bloc of sensations. In the moment of the ‘shock’ when these sensations collide is meaning-making, this is where something new is born, an event of becoming is created and revealed to a viewer.