Accepted Paper:

Previous Pasts - Fiona Foley's Photomedia Interventions of History  


Wendy Garden (Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers photomedia installations by Australian artist Fiona Foley produced in response to a photograph of a young Badtjala woman. A visual link to Foley's ancestors, the portrait was the catalyst for works that contest the dehumanization of First Australians by an anthropological gaze.

Paper long abstract:

This paper considers a body of work produced by Australian artist Fiona Foley created in response to an encounter with an archival photograph of a young Badtjala woman. The late nineteenth century portrait was made within scientific knowledge economies that privileged a limited range of discourses that closed meaning off and restricted interpretations. However it provided a vital visual link to Foley's ancestors and became an important catalyst for a number of photo-based interventions that contest the consumption of photographs of First Australians within anthropological discourses.

This paper is driven by an enquiry into how the meaning of an anthropological photograph changes when it is recontextualized as an artwork and encountered in a gallery. Beginning in 1988, the year Australia celebrated the bicentenary of the arrival of the First Fleet, Foley re-imagined the portrait of the Badtjala woman in a number of photomedia installations that mobilized a more interrogative engagement with the portrait. Her project culminated in several performative echoes of the portrait in which Foley engages the politics of self-representation to assert cultural continuity in a rebuff to fatal impact narratives. In this series of photographs Foley stages an encounter between history and its Other to subvert the colonial paradigm and expand the visual vocabulary used to depict Badtjala people. Throughout this body of work, Foley draws upon the photograph's indexical fidelity to cast a critical spotlight on the past and install an emotional tone to remembering.

Panel P20
Indigenous Interventions: Contemporary Photo-based Art and the Anthropological Archive