1992 Beasts and Beauties - Artist Narratives


by Helen Norton September 01, 1992

Full PDF with all iamages and narratives here

Click Here to see the Exhibition


Artists Statement
I’ve not set out to change the world. I would however like to pry its eyes open a bit. Ignorance and turning the other cheek leads to misunderstanding.  I want to creep deeper than the history books and move through the psyche and the souls of the people or players of that time.  It was a time in history where one race treated another badly.  It could have been anywhere in the world.  I’ve no drama with being black or white, right or wrong; we’re human.  We the ‘whitey’s’ have lost our tracks over this civilized time and seem to be coming undone at the seams. Perhaps our society structure in not working. Some very basic ingredients have been so distorted that they no longer work. Our whole earth system and connections, each important for the other species survival.  Our ‘civilised’ disconnection from those principles – our ‘exclusiveness’and refusal to respect what formed us in the first pace makes us an outcast breaking the chain whichin a dramatized sense will lead to our extinction or disintegration.

 We are lucky in that we have only to look back such a short time of 200 years to see a wonderful spiritual society in action.  We’ve got to acknowledge and respect that culture and spirituality to the land quickly and learn from it. Perhaps then preserving it, but not like what has been done by the ‘do gooders’ to date – the social justice warriors - which is to treat it like a pickled onion, or more likely as a dangerous oddity, like a deformed scorpion in a metho jar. Far more beneficial surely would be that the cultural significance is kept alive as a living breathing experience.

If we want a national identity then surely part of that multicultural symbol would have to come from the people of the very land we tread, and a very large part.  We must understand that this fragile continent is not like others.  We do not have rich volcanic soils and growling hard animals as much as we have tried to make it so and in that we are a very different and delicately balanced existence as far as the land is concerned – here ‘down under’ as they say.

 There are a lot of mixed feelings that surface in the audience of my work. In some ways the western religions helped place bandaids on some of the shocking history as it was taking place. The survival of many Aboriginal groups would have been impossible had they not sheltered them, but there was a price to pay as is always, a trade off, in our world of trading.  I can’t help but feel uncomfortable at the thought of having to trade ones soul and spirituality for the right to exist. 

 

 So with a realistic world now of mixed races more likely than not I find people not sure of where their loyalties lie thus interpreting my work in different ways.  Their beliefs about who they are when it comes to culture are messy.  There are a lot of grey areas in the modern borderless world around personal identity as it is formed around spirituality and faith mixed with sovereignty due to increasing ease of global movement. It is after all how invasions were conducted, peaceful or violent.  It’s very hard to retain such nebulous material as ‘spiritual belief’ unless its backed by a very powerful ‘institution’ to retain the symbol of it.  The Aboriginal culture by its very nature was not this way inclined as the whole point was that man was smaller than the symbols of nature.  All he could do was try to describe these in cave paintings and delegate stories to elders to retain and pass on.  There were no big books or slush funds to finance the retention of the power of the belief.   Therefore it was an easy target to wipe out and scrape quickly from one generations psyche to the next.  The lessons of remaining humble and as a servant (caretaker only) of the land were not going to be of any use to a culture that was hell bent on making nature subservient to man.

I consider that I am not taking  sides in my depiction of our history, but merely making observations of incidents from my white seat.  I want to remove the dark curtains from the windows and let some reality and light stream in. Some of these pieces may not be what you would want to sip tea and eat cup cakes to in an afternoon art exhibit, but no person has ever slain a haunting guilt or solved a problem of past or present without looking at it in all its truth. I have executed these pieces to flush out some of my own misunderstanding and curiosity encountered in my 10 years in the outback working alongside many Aboriginal friends in stock camps and other occupations. These were the sons and daughters, of mixed marriages, but always from the outback, therefore their mothers or fathers had never left the more remote areas of Australia (to live in cities).  I was always interested in what they had left of their own culture, and how they viewed themselves – through what values, what lens.  There was no confusion for them.  They had no trouble holding both cultures together in who they were.  Asking them such questions was stupid.  Observing and living alongside was the only way to have answers.

Perhaps we could all take a dose of some of the most marvelous Aboriginal traits of all; their most incredible sense of humour, tolerance, sense of family and love which has helped them cope with their European visitors, invaders, refugees and friends as we all are in one way or another.




Helen Norton
Helen Norton

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