Empty Lands

Contemporary art approaches to photographing historical trauma in Tasmania.

Empty lands
Ricky Maynard, Traitor
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land. Black and white gelatin silver print, 34cm x 52cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Jessica Neath, Art History and Theory PhD candidate, has won this year's John Barrett Award for Australian Studies (Postgraduate Category) for her article, “Empty lands: contemporary art approaches to photographing historical trauma in Tasmania,” published in the Journal of Australian Studies in 2012.

The John Barrett Award for Australian Studies is awarded annually for the best article published by the Journal of Australian Studies (JAS). The article considers recent artworks by Anne Ferran and Ricky Maynard that engage with traumatic or unresolved histories by photographing place.

This article offers a fresh interpretation of history, culture and trauma in one Australian site, studied through photographic practices. It links current thinking about past trauma to artistic perceptions, reading the powerful images in relation to ideas about the erasure of dark pasts. The originality of this paper’s argument lies not just in its approach and topic but also in its conclusions. It evinces a steady concern to think with history in place, that is, ‘not by explaining events but by framing the places we now live in, traverse, visit, share and encounter.’ It uses an extensive range of primary and secondary sources and effectively employs key theoretical insights concerning Indigenous and postcolonial representation.

The complexity of Tasmanian sites of Indigenous trauma is illustrated through the lens of place and by the careful use of theoretical insights on representation, history and art in Australia. Neath’s article provides an accessible and moving account of these important art works and sensitively explores the thinking they evoke.
inasa.org/?p=216

Investigator
Jessica Neath