A new urgency is present in Judy Watson's memory scars, dreams and gardens. The idyllic yet dystopian title is telling of the artist's trepidation over the past few months, conjuring memories of the macabre and eccentric 1994 non-fiction Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Our shared homeland has suffered the ravages of drought, fire and the contamination and salination of precious waterways. Purposeful or accidental destruction of cultural sites and loss of species are by-products of expanding commercial industry. This has sat heavily with Watson.
While her home in Brisbane has only been moderately affected by global pandemic COVID-19 – especially in comparison with our southern neighbours – the feelings of unease from the current state of affairs are universally shared.
With matrilineal Waanyi ancestry, Watson's artistic practice is centred in truth telling and ever informed by the archives that she mines. As observed by senior curator Hetti Perkins in a recent conversation with Judy Watson, her practice is "deeply personal, observational" and holds "simultaneously expression of the global 'big picture' and personal 'small picture'".
In the case of this body of work, the sentiment rings true. Rather than facing back into history – including researching evidence of massacres, and identifying historic cultural objects held in the bowels of overseas institutions – this body of work is rooted in her observations of the present. In Watson's words, the works embody:
what I have seen
what I have done
where I have been
what I have made
(From the exhibition catalogue essay by Katina Davidson, A/Curator, Indigenous Australian Art Australian Art, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
Press release courtesy Tolarno Galleries.