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Millar-Baker, Hayley - 2018.59.1

Hayley Millar-Baker

Even if the race is fated to disappear (Peeneeyt meerreeng / Before, now, tomorrow), no. 2 2017
inkjet on cotton rag
150 x 80 cm
Purchased 2018

The solid intent and resolved visual narrative in recent photo-media works by Gunditjmara artist Hayley Millar-Baker is inspiring and insightful. A painter for a decade, it is only in the last few years that she has transferred her practice to photography. Engaging themes of Aboriginal connections to country, culture, identity, history and language, Millar-Baker re-authors her Aboriginal cultural and historical account through resolved visual representations.

In her pivotal series Even If the Race Is Fated to Disappear (Peeneeyt Meerreeng / Before, Now, Tomorrow) an exquisite reimaging of landscapes is seen. By deliberately and intuitively using a muted black-and-white palette – combined with seamless collaging and mirroring of hundreds of individually photographed, cut and strategically rearranged elements – Millar-Baker creates an alternative reality, rich with imagined encounters and histories. Using images she took herself and those taken by her grandfather, Millar-Baker focuses on places that have played an important part in her family’s intergenerational experiences.

In the second work in the series, a low-lying wall cuts through the upper portion of the image, creating a border and a disconnect with the central, constructed, mirrored waterways flowing past the organic rocky foreground. The ethereal placement of a transparent cloud provides a visual canopy to the lone central tree stump. Together they hint at the abundant landscape that existed before Western destruction, with two native birds in flight balancing the image.

In the third work, the careful arrangement of different-sized rocks creates a skewed orientation of landscape, providing a horizontal and an aerial perspective simultaneously. The subtle circular arrangement of rocks below the horizon line also challenges depth perception, as it creates both concave and convex views.

In the seventh work, crumbling mission walls, fortified buildings and elongated arched openings in several stages of decay and abandonment are repeated. The different levels, visually stacked, read as layers of history, as monuments to the stages of devastation experienced by Aboriginal people. Central to the work, and almost imperceptible, is a small, childlike figure – Hayley’s mother – dressed in a simple white shift and laying still, with her legs hanging. Is she climbing? Up or down? Is she escaping or is she is lifeless, having fallen down the rocky cliff? The sense of heightened anxiety surrounding the lone small figure is palpable, as her story and fate among the dilapidated architecture is unknown. The mirroring effect symbolically represents the repeated and destructive methodologies used to strategically dispossess Aboriginal people as part of incursions across country.

The reinterpretation and purposeful construction of layered images create contemplative opportunities for the viewer to engage with and challenge the historical narratives of this country, repositioning strong Aboriginal perspectives front and centre.

As Millar-Baker reimagines these surreal landscapes, she also reimagines and realigns her connections to country, culture and identity; like so many of us living away from our traditional homelands and communities, she maintains connections through her art practice. By leaving a strong demarcation between literal and theoretical black and white experiences, Millar-Baker creates a legacy that celebrates and marks her identity, voice and vision for generations to come. As the title of her series so eloquently challenges, ‘even if’ is no longer a valid concept.

Tina Baum is a Larrakia, Wardaman and Karajarri curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the National Gallery of Australia.

From the series
Millar-Baker, Hayley - 2018.59.2
Hayley Millar-Baker

Even if the race is fated to disappear (Peeneeyt meerreeng / Before, now, tomorrow), no. 3 2017
inkjet on cotton rag
120 x 80 cm
Purchased 2018

Millar-Baker, Hayley - 2018.59.3
Hayley Millar-Baker

Even if the race is fated to disappear (Peeneeyt meerreeng / Before, now, tomorrow), no. 7 2017
inkjet on cotton rag
140 x 80 cm
Purchased 2018