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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, 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 and published by grahame galleries + editions, Brisbane; and Tolarno Gallery, Melbourne.

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

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

Image: The red of history: loose ends. Installation view, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra


This project is supported by the Balnaves Foundation.