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Scarce, Yhonnie - 2018.16.a

Yhonnie Scarce

Only a Mother Could Love Them 2016
handblown glass
25 cm high x 15 cm diameter each (variable sizes - approx.)
Purchased by the Monash Business School 2017

a whisper arrives. two thousand.
two thousand or more. did you hear it?

Only a Mother Could Love Them is a deceptively delicate work by contemporary glass artist Yhonnie Scarce. It comprises a tiny cluster of five hand-blown glass ‘bush plums’ – burnished to an oil-slick finish – which lean together with the charming, wobbly intimacy of five newborn babies.

Undermining the charm of these sweet rounded balls is a series of traumatic punctures in the glossy surface of the glass. According to Scarce, Only a Mother Could Love Them seeks to remind us of babies born with life-threatening deformities as a result of exposure to radiation from the nuclear testing at the Woomera Restricted Area in Maralinga, South Australia. Under a cloud of secrecy, several nuclear tests were performed at Woomera by the British government between 1956 and 1963, leaving a deadly legacy of intergenerational radiation poisoning. Scarce was born in Woomera and belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples. She explains that the cemetery in her hometown is sadly filled with the graves of babies, the tiny victims of this terrible experiment.

While the number affected by radiation poisoning is many, only five babies are represented in this little cluster. The last to join the group Scarce named ‘the screamer’, its puncture wound gaping like a tiny anguished mouth. The experience of its making was so intensely emotional that Scarce was forced to end the work.

that bomb. the torture of red sand turning green
the anguish of earth turned to glass
did you hear it? two thousand. two thousand or more

Scarce first visited the bomb sites at Maralinga in 2014, returning again in 2015, when she was able to visit the Breakaway bomb site and see the splinters of earth that had been turned to glass by the heat of the explosions. She explains that the earth glistened with shiny drops that looked like rain under a cloudless sky. While Scarce’s decision to work with glass was not specifically motivated by what happened in Maralinga, these shards of glass-earth add layers of meaning to her work.

yams cremated inside the earth. poison trapped
in glass like a museum. did you hear it?
two thousand. two thousand or more
tears we cried for our Land

Glass yams, bush plums and bush bananas are recurring motifs in Scarce’s work. She gives their irregular shapes quasi-human attributes; they group and cluster like tiny glass organs, heads or bodies. The bush plums in Only a Mother Could Love Them have the appealing fat roundness of babies’ heads, prompting a protective desire to hold or nurture them. They remind us of the terrible costs borne by those struggling to survive the impacts of colonisation in Maralinga. Only a Mother Could Love Them is a tiny work, with an explosive impact.

Zanny Begg is an artist and filmmaker living in Bulli, near Wollongong.

[1] Ali Cobby Eckermann, all quoted fragments from ‘Thunder raining poison’, Poetry, May 2016,