University of Tasmania

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Redeeming memories : a visual investigation into the lives of convict women

posted on 2023-05-26, 19:15 authored by Henri, CJ
This research explores the artist's role as an instigator, facilitator and advocate. By inviting members of the community to participate in an art project, the research project investigates art's potential for generating significant community engagement and facilitating shared cultural experience. In focusing on the subject of convict women, community participants have both reflected on and raised awareness of a history shrouded by a veil of amnesia. The project has involved the development of a large-scale installation, entitled Departures and Arrivals, individual components of which have been created by members of the public. The installation has been presented in general community settings in cities and towns around Tasmania and in Sydney. The sites chosen have been historic convict sites or art galleries, with the majority of the settings being outdoors. The subject-matter of Departures and Arrivals concerns the convict women of 19th century Van Diemen's Land and the extremely high death-rate, even for the time, among the babies of these women within the Cascades Female Factory at South Hobart. A combination of historical research and community involvement in art production has served to encourage reflection on the tragedy of the scores of deceased babies, the grief of their incarcerated mothers and the grim system to which they were all subjected - and the 'forgetting' that ensued through subsequent generations. The project has been informed by the philosophies and strategies of various contemporary artists whose work involves community engagement. Some, such as Vivienne Binns and Olafur Eliasson, involve members of the community in actual creative production. Others, whose work derives from socio-cultural concerns and who present their art in a variety of settings outside the formal gallery situation, include Julie Gough, Anne Ferran, Christian Boltanski, Sue Lorraine, Catherine Truman and Julie Blyfield. Traditional cotton is the principal medium employed in Departures and Arrivals. Consequently, artists have been studied who, likewise; have utilised cloth of various kinds as expressive media. These include Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Ann Hamilton and Kim Sooja. The thesis exhibition presents the major component of the installation, Departures and Arrivals: namely, some 1500 'bonnets'. It also includes documentation of the entire project as it has been undertaken in its various locations and lists of names, both of convict mothers and of their lost babies. As an objective of the exhibition is to encourage reflection and contemplation of particular local-historical events, it includes provision for public response, in particular feedback from individuals whose own family backgrounds may connect with those documented through the project. The research project has demonstrated the considerable potential of artist/community collaborations in addressing issues of a community's past: in this case, a painful and hitherto largely unknown aspect of Tasmania's convict history.


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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2007 the author Thesis (MFA)--University of Tasmania, 2007. Includes bibliographical references

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