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1995.33.6_Tracey Moffatt, Wizard of Oz

Tracey Moffatt

The Wizard of Oz, 1956
from the series Scarred for Life 1994
photo offset print
80 x 60 cm
Monash University Collection

Tracey Moffatt’s Scarred for Life came hard on the heels of earlier bodies of photographic work, including Some Lads, 1986; Something More, 1989; Pet Thang, 1991; and films Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy, 1989; and beDevil, 1993. The characters Moffatt assembled for her various still and moving tableaux were diverse—handsome young men photographed as though by Richard Avedon, an ambiguous young woman from nowhere dreaming of escape to the big smoke, the sensuousness of an inky idyll, the complexities of mother-daughter dependency, the endurance of the ghostly.

Scarred for Life, a series of nine, is a matter-of-fact depiction of childhood trauma.[1] Unlike her previous works that have a lusciousness regardless of their monochrome or colour effects, Scarred for Life emulates the pages of Life magazine.[2] Moffatt has scaled the pages up to street poster size and printed on thin off-white paper. A grainy image is accompanied by a simple caption which relates the humiliation and shame that has scarred the depicted child for life. Such stories, which appear throughout Moffatt’s work, dramatise, ‘. . . in many different ways, the primal violence of socialisation.’[3]

The Wizard of Oz, 1956 is about a boy who dresses too early, for his father’s taste, in his feminine Dorothy persona for a school production of The Wizard of Oz. In observing the scene, we acknowledge the drama of our own socialisation. The face of the authority figure is turned away gesticulating with his pipe towards the half-seen clock on top of the mantelpiece. Looking down on the humiliated boy are several Toby Jugs and related china figurines. These emerged in eighteenth-century England and represent jolly drunken sots, heteronormative white men.

The book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was published 1900 in the United States and was made into the eponymous movie with Judy Garland in 1939. Moffatt’s The Wizard of Oz is inevitably charged with the ‘queer’ subtexts that arose from the book as much as the film. Both were hugely popular with their utopian message of caring for all regardless of how anyone is made.[4] The movie’s glitzy Technicolor effects, glorious soundtrack and its phrases and behaviours were subsequently incorporated into survivalist codes among primarily white gender diverse people.[5]

The potent combination of the term queer (a person, object or event considered by the ruling class to be out of place or strange) and childhood shame has been examined by American scholar Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick among others, who noted the volatility of the word ‘queer’ and the impossibility of ‘detaching the word from its associations with shame and with the terrifying powerlessness of gender-dissonant or otherwise stigmatised childhood.’ Further, the term ‘…cleaves to that scene [of shame] as a near inexhaustible source of transformational energy.’[6]

Tracey Moffatt’s human tableaux are unflinching. Her characters are as varied as the forms and techniques she explores. Moffatt works inclusively and transformatively so that class, colour and gender preferences are not the main story. The binaries, which have underpinned the white world since Enlightenment, collapse because she brings her subjects to centre stage dispassionately. This is not to say her work is clinical. In 1995 she noted, ‘I think my work is very uncool. It’s very hot, you know what I mean. It’s emotional.’[7]

Moffatt’s work is frequently described as transgressive or subversive. It is useful to consider what rather than how she is supposed to be transgressing or subverting, and which perspective is an accurate reflection of society at large. The how uncritically accepts the work as marginal.

Judy Annear is a researcher and writer who lives in Victoria, Australia, on Dja Dja Wurrung land, never ceded. She is Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne, School of Culture and Communication.

[1] There are many excellent writings on Moffatt and Scarred for Life including: Lynne Cooke and Karen Kelly (eds), Tracey Moffatt: Free-falling, Dia Center for the Arts, New York, 1998; Paula Savage and Lara Strongman (eds), Tracey Moffatt, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington, 2002; Toni Ross, ‘Scarring the image’, Critical Readings: The 12th Biennale of Sydney, Artspace, Woolloomooloo, NSW, 2000, n.p.; Daniel Palmer, ‘Tracey Moffatt’, Twelve Australian Photo Artists, Piper Press, Annandale, NSW, 2009, pp. 105–15; Gael Newton, ‘Tracey Moffatt’, Australian Perspecta 1995, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, 1995, pp. 70–71; Rex Butler and Morgan Thomas, ‘From Something Singular to Something More’, Eyeline, no. 45, Autumn/Winter 2001, pp. 23–31; Marcia Langton, ‘Well I Heard It on the Radio and I Saw It on the Television…’, Australian Film Commission, North Sydney, NSW, 1993.

[2] Life documented the twentieth century from the perspective of the United States, most especially from the 1930s to the 1970s. It circulated worldwide.

[3] Adrian Martin, ‘Moffatt’s Australia (A Reconnaissance)’, Parkett, vol. 53, 1998, p. 26.

[4] L. Frank Baum’s perception of ‘all’ did not include Indigenous Americans in the 1890s. His descendants apologised in 2006 to the Sioux Nation for any hurt caused by Baum’s published calls to genocide. Charles Michael Ray, ‘“Oz” Family Apologizes for Racist Editorials’, NPR News, 17 August 2016,

[5] The Wizard of Oz found an entirely new audience in the United States when it was screened on television in 1956. The ambiguities of the characters, and the post-War glamour, as much as tragedies, of Judy Garland who played Dorothy were highly evocative for young people. See, for example, S. M. Dina, ‘Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist/Friends of Dorothy: Why Gay Boys and Gay Men Love The Wizard of Oz,’ Children's Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 3, 2019, pp. 342–46.

[6] See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, ‘Queer Performativity: Henry James’s The Art of the Novel’, GLQ, vol. 1, 1993, pp. 1–16, quoted in Amelia Jones, In between Subjects: A Critical Genealogy of Queer Performance, Routledge, Oxford and New York, 2021, pp. 25–26.

[7] Tracey Moffatt quoted in Michael Fitzgerald, ‘Technicolor World’, Time Australia, 7 August 1995, p. 74.