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Judy Watson & Helen Johnson: the red thread of history, loose ends

10 September – 12 November 2022

Jaklyn Babington, formerly Senior Curator, Contemporary Art; Tina Baum, Gulumirrgin (Larrakia)/Wardaman/Karajarri peoples, Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art; and Elspeth Pitt, Senior Curator, Australian Art, National Gallery of Australia
with Hannah Mathews, Senior Curator, MUMA

Judy Watson & Helen Johnson: the red thread of history, loose ends is an opportunity to experience the work of two leading Australian artists in an exhibition that explores complex and varied perspectives on colonisation, with an emphasis on the experience of women.

Watson, a Waanyi woman, based on Jagera/Yuggera and Turrbal Country of Meanjin/Brisbane and Johnson, a second-generation immigrant of Anglo descent based on Wurundjeri Woiwurrung Country in Naarm/Melbourne, have each developed new works that speak from their individual and Ancestral cultural experiences living in Australia. Originally commissioned by the National Gallery of Australia for the Know My Name program, and as part of the Balnaves Contemporary Series, at MUMA this exhibition is brought together with existing works by each artist that explore the significance of family and motherhood, the importance of matrilineal lineage, and the tensions between individualism and connectedness.

While the red thread of history, loose ends brings disparate histories and subject positions into proximity, it also celebrates the artists’ shared love of materiality. Watson and Johnson engage with the cultural and political significance of image and mark making, with both addressing the relationship between layering and memory, body and material. Working primarily across painting and printmaking, their works individually and in conversation draw on colonial archives, reclaiming female experiences and perspectives. Both artists acknowledge the ongoing nature and legacies of colonialism and the importance of making change.

At MUMA Judy Watson & Helen Johnson: the red thread of history, loose ends is accompanied by Judy Watson’s recent publication skullduggery (2020) and a new artist’s book by Helen Johnson made with MUMA and Negative Press.

Judy Watson is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane; Tolarno Gallery, Melbourne; and published by grahame galleries + editions, Brisbane.

Helen Johnson is represented by Sutton Gallery, Melbourne; Pilar Corrias, London; and Château Shatto, Los Angeles.

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are respectfully advised that this exhibition may contain images and voices of, and references to, deceased people. Where possible, permission has been sought to include their names and images.

Access: The exhibition takes place across MUMA's well-lit, ground-floor galleries and contains etchings, paintings and one video with a spoken audio track that runs for approximately 30 minutes. Access the wall labels in advance by clicking on the link below underneath 'Resources'. Audio-described tours can be arranged on request for visitors who are blind or have low vision, with sighted companions and guide dogs welcome. Contact reception on 03 9905 4217 or

Image: Artists Helen Johnson and Judy Watson, in Judy Watson & Helen Johnson: the red thread of history, loose ends at the National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, 2022. Courtesy of NGA.

Related Programs


Judy Watson & Helen Johnson: the red thread of history, loose ends is a National Gallery Touring Exhibition, a Know My Name project and part of The Balnaves Contemporary Series.