11 February – 7 March
Danie Mellor in conversation with Tyson Yunkaporta
jujaba: [a thought space] is an installation of paintings and objects that delineates the cataclysmic disruption to life experienced by the murraamba (Aboriginal people) of the rainforests of northern Queensland. Jujaba is a language word used in this region to remember an ancient time of creator people from which this world emerged. The enduring chronology from that primordial epoch to the present was seismically interrupted by the colonial invasion of Aboriginal land spaces with its devastating repercussions of cultural and spiritual dismemberment. It was an attempted genocide and protracted moment of shocking indifference. The exhibition also prompts us to remember how intimately connected we are to pictures and their powerful role in shaping memory and perception, particularly those recalling a time past. The images here are gentle, almost quotidian scenes that belie the undercurrent of a corrosive and ultimately destructive timeline. The picturesque and nostalgic is a momentary pleasure only: the events of colonial expansion move Aboriginal people inexorably towards an incomprehensible world of loss and catastrophic deprivation.
In jujaba: [a thought space], works are loosely sequenced to trace a pictorial storyline that suggest a progression through time. This narrative is initiated through images of the colonial takers and their arrival in northern Queensland, culminating in a moment of transubstantiation hinted at through objects such as the jawbone and shell-encrusted skull. These three-dimensional pieces are the artefacts and tangible signifiers of ancestral legends and the story places of Aboriginal people from Dyirbal-speaking rainforest language groups. Their Country was held in custodianship for tens of millennia and reached from Nabbanabbamee (Mount Hypimamee) and Wiinggina (Lake Eacham) in the Atherton Tablelands, to the coastal plains of Cardwell to the lush mountain forests of Wooroonooran with its peaks of Choorechillum (Mount Bartle Frere) and Bellenden Ker. This place and region is saturated with human presence and legend, and recent histories of violent human struggle and confrontation that unfolded against a backdrop of stunning ecological beauty.
The exhibition’s paintings interpret and reflect in part upon historical images, many of which were created by Alfred Atkinson, a photographer active in the Cairns region during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Atkinson produced portraits of several generations of my Aboriginal family in his Cairns studios over many years, so I feel a connection with his work in remembering the history of that late colonial period. Images of that time, including Atkinson’s, reveal the legacies of occupation and are especially apposite given the active role of history painting and photography in shaping perceptions around discovery, possession, and ownership. This body of work created for the Artspace Ideas Platform meditates on the passage of time and suggests alternative narratives to our experience of the contemporary material world.
Danie Mellor is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Bowral, New South Wales whose multidisciplinary practice explores intersections between contemporary and historic culture while considering legacies of cultural memory and knowledge. His maternal Aboriginal family were from the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland and his father’s family emigrated from California in the early 1900s.
Mellor’s work is held in regional, state, and national collections, including the NGA and MCA Australia, and international museums including the National Gallery of Canada, The British Museum, and the National Museum of Scotland. His work has received major awards, acquisitions, and commissions including the MCA Australia’s Sculpture Commission in 2019, the National Gallery of Australia Member’s 2019 Acquisition Fund, and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2009.
He previously held positions of lecturer and senior lecturer at the National Institute of the Arts, ANU and Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. In 2010 he was appointed to the Visual Arts Board at the Australia Council for the Arts and subsequently served as Chair of Artform until 2015. In 2020 he was appointed to the Board of MCA Australia and the Visual Arts Board of Create NSW.
This project was supported by the Australia Council for the Arts 2020 Resilience Fund: Create