By Kristina Sfreddo
Award-winning comedian Hannah Gadsby (along with her tweed suit obsession) takes us on a trip of national self-discovery, seeing us “journey from white settlement and into the studios of contemporary Australian artists”.
Episode one lands us in Tasmania, where Gadsby explores colonial art and its role in forging Australia’s cultural identity. We look at artworks depicting beautiful Australian landscapes, void of any conflict, and boasting European ideals of beauty.
We delve into the ways these problematic artworks have been used as historical evidence of colonial times – from the first contact between the Aboriginal people and the white population, to everyday life on the land. The subjectivity of these artworks are discussed, and so Gadsby opens up a dialogue which asks the viewer to question, how much truth can we read into these images and how does this affect our sense of identity as a country and as individuals?
To challenge this subjectivity, Gadbsy meets with several Australian contemporary artists and explores their ideas and thoughts on the accuracy of colonial artworks as historical accounts. Artists Daniel Boyd, Joan Ross, Julie Gough and Ben Quilty all discuss their own relationships with the past and the way history as defined by art has influenced their works, lives and identities.
Gough uses text in her work to ‘rewrite’ what we know of history and as a way to expose truths about conflicts between the white population and the Aboriginal people through newspaper clippings from the 1800s. Quilty, on the other hand, shows us his painting of a famous landscape which, while beautiful, was also the site of a horrific massacre of the Aboriginal people.
What the artists and the series all have in common is that they urge us to consider what we are looking at when we look at colonial artworks and to see not only what is being depicted at face-value, but to look deeper to uncover the historical truths and untold narratives of Australia’s past.
Gadsby, who holds a degree in Art History, brings wit, intelligence and humour to the topic, while her droll delivery makes this a truly great series.
Next week we are invited into the studios of contemporary female artists to explore Federation and ideas of hyper-masculinity.
Oz airs on Tuesday nights at 10pm on ABC1. You can also catch episodes on ‘iView’