26 March 2014

Danie Mellor’s Exotic Lies and Sacred Ties exhibition at UQ Gallery




Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae

Within 20 years of white settlement in the Atherton Tablelands, the indigenous population was reduced to 20 per cent of their pre-contact numbers. European diseases like measles and influenza took many victims. But it was the wholesale murder by settlers that was the main contributor to the almost complete obliteration of Dyirbal speakers.

This is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award winner Danie Mellor’s mother’s country. The compilation of his works over the last 11 years at the UQ Gallery presents a history of the Atherton Tablelands and the rainforest people.

Danie’s pieces offer binary views from colonial and indigenous perspectives. It creates a kind of synergy to highlight how the cultures are vastly different, but share commonalities.

The themes explored across the exhibition include ritual and safekeeping, memento mori, culture warriors, silent witness and arcadia.

Curator at UQ Art Museum Samantha Littley says she and the head curator Maudie Palmer used these motifs to fully explore the concepts in Danie’s art.

“So for example with the ritual and safekeeping theme there was this idea that ritual knowledge and the handing on of sacred knowledge is something that common to many societies.

“There’s all sorts of ritual knowledge that’s passed on through visual and oral histories [in the indigenous community].

“And then kind of counterpointed against that is the masonic rituals that are perhaps more closely associated with European culture and what he’s saying in fact is that there are similarities, but there’s differences between those two things.”

Many of Danie’s mixed-medium pieces are reminiscent of blue-and-white Spode China. But instead of whimsical oriental pictures, the paintings depict native Australian peoples, flora and fauna or macabre and disjointed scenes of colonialism. Spode China represents the Chinoiserie popular at the time of white settlement in Australia. In Danie’s works it seems to symbolise the forced invasion of western culture on the tranquil, but confused native population.

Samantha says the ornate frames and shimmering materials in Danie’s works attract the viewers’ gaze. At first, it seems quite beautiful. But then more poignant messages arise.

“So what he does is he draws you into that picture,” she says.

“And initially he does that with things like the gold and the glitter, which are obviously very visually appealing and attractive in a way.

“But then once you’ve entered into that looking with him, he shows you other things that are perhaps a little bit more complex and possible more difficult to consider, but he does it in a very gentle way and there’s no course to blame.”

It’s a pivotal moment in Danie’s already illustrious career. He was recently included in the inaugural international survey of Indigenous art in Canada and will be shown this year at Art Basel Hong Kong.


The 50 artworks on loan from galleries including the Australia Museum, the National Gallery of Australia and the Queensland Art Gallery are on exhibit until April 27th.





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