Indigenous artwork new acquisition for SAM

Marlene Gilson - Cooks Landing-4
Marlene Gilson, Community / Language Group: Wathaurung / Wadawurrung, Cook’s Landing, 2018, acrylic on linen, Shepparton Art Museum Collection, purchased, 2018.

The recent acquisition of Cook’s Landing, 2018 to the SAM Collection by Wathaurung/Wadawurrung artist Marlene Gilson, will further bolster works by Indigenous artists of the South East Australia.

This historic event leaves no part of this country untouched and has shaped all our lives today in some shape or form. This work is a powerful conversation piece and invites audience engagement thought and Indigenous lens.

Marlene Gilson lives on her home Country Wathaurung/Wadawurrung in the small rural town of Gordon, located 25km east of Ballarat. As a child Gilson’s grandmother ensured she would know about her Ancestors, their history and culture through storytelling, and at times by drawing in the sand.

It was Gilson’s family that encouraged her to take up painting 10 years ago as a way to occupy her mind as she overcame a serious illness. Through art she was able to continue her inherited storytelling abilities by painting wooden blocks carved by her husband Barry in various shapes, depicting whole scenes of little villages for her grandchildren.

Cook’s Landing, 2018 is a re-imagined scene of Captain James Cook and the First Fleet arriving at Botany Bay in 1788. Continuing her exploration of significant events of national importance, Gilson’s work challenges mainstream historical narratives, in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and experiences have often been absent or played a peripheral role.

The work depicts Aboriginal people in both a traditional setting, as well as dressed as Captain Cook and those of the First Fleet arriving and setting up camp. This approach is similar to that of Australian documentary film maker Don Featherstone, whose 1986 film BabaKiueria featured the late Bob Maza alongside several other notable First Peoples as central characters dressed in historic British military uniform, similar to that worn by the First Fleet. The use of satirical humour in this work is both a cultural expression and a gesture to invite appreciation of the power structures at play.

The artists use of humour allows audience to engage with the work in a light hearted way but cleverly about a significant event in history that continues to colour our lives today in diverse and for Aboriginal people traumatic ways.

SAM Director Rebecca Coates said the work was an important acquisition for the museum “Marlene’s paintings are whimsical, wonderful, and importantly, enable us to re-imagine Australia’s history from various points of view. “

“As well as being a marvellous work by an important Australian artist, the acquisition signals Shepparton Art Museum’s commitment to supporting Aboriginal artists from South-East Victoria, through the acquisition of work and programming. It enables us to engage with ideas central to our place, people and context, and a broader First Nations discussion,” she said.

Image: Marlene Gilson, Community / Language Group: Wathaurung / Wadawurrung, Cook’s Landing, 2018, acrylic on linen, Shepparton Art Museum Collection, purchased, 2018.