University of Tasmania
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Song in a strange land: an investigation, in paint, into the music of Arauco Libre

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posted on 2023-05-28, 09:33 authored by Wilson, RA
The central research question underlying this project is 'How to express in visual form, the music of Arauco Libre and its role in their migration experience'. The case study in this research is a group of exiles from Chile who formed a popular band, Arauco Libre, in Hobart, Tasmania, thirty years ago. Their Andean-inspired music, played on traditional South American instruments, has its roots in folk music, going back for thousands of years, and is entwined with the identity of the people of the Altiplano. In the politically turbulent 1960's and 70's, this music was associated with the aspirations of the indigenous and the poor and the election of the Allende government, but after the military coup which toppled this government, it also came to speak of the experience of exile. The instruments, rich in associations of all these things, are the subject matter in the series of paintings that are the outcome of this research. The nine still life paintings of these unique instruments are quasi-portraits of their owners. Using the device of hanging the instruments from trees, I reference the poetic trope of exiles from Psalm 137: 'we hung our harps on the willows'. This suspension of the instruments engages the migrant narrative at a moment of in-between, of not belonging, of leaving the past and facing an unknown future. The images explore the tension between nostalgia for a past homeland and hope for a better life. These dualities are expressed in the use of darkness and light. Along with the void and the raking light, these metaphors combine in a redemptive visual allegory of hope and human endeavour. In a series of interviews band members gave insights into both their music and their migration story. Literature about music in society, and Andean society in particular, provided an undergirding of the project. Among the still life artists that have directly informed my work are Juan Sanchez Cotan, Francisco de Zurbaran, Adriaen Coorte, and Harmen Steenwyk. I also refer to painters of musical instruments, Evaristo Baschinas and Raoul Dufy. Chosen works of twenty first century painters, Cindy Wright and Teresa Fischer, demonstrate how the still life genre can be invested with contemporary meaning while the work of contemporary photographer Joachim Froese is seminal, with his strategy of suspending objects, exposing their vulnerability. The project celebrates and examines a small but significant part of Tasmanian history. Positioned at the intersection of the sister arts of music and painting, the research explores the significance of Andean-inspired music in the cross-cultural setting of Hobart by interpreting this specific case and seeks to repurpose the still life genre to communicate the nature of the migrant experience that it evokes.


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Copyright 2018 the author

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