Dr Harding and Kate Harding: Artists Exploring the Bonds Between Mother and Child

Review: D Harding with Kate Harding through a visiting lens, Chau Chak Wing Museum

Enter D and Kate Harding Through a visiting lensKate’s textile work Cylinders (2020) was the first thing to catch my eye. Taller than the surrounding works, it draws the eye with its bold geometric patterns in greens and ochres contrasting with the more organic palette of the surrounding work.

D Harding is a star of Australian contemporary art with a burgeoning international profile. Their mother, Kate, is a textile artist who in recent years has used quilts to tell stories of family and country.

This exhibition shows the bonds between a mother and her child and the culture that forged them, highlighting the contribution of Aboriginal women.

D and Kate Harding are descendants of the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples, and have strong and ongoing ties to the internationally significant heritage site of Carnarvon Gorge in central Queensland.

Attracting tourists for its natural and cultural values, the gorge is known for its outstanding rock art. However, the tourism focus has often obscured the spiritual significance to First Nations peoples. This exhibition and accompanying publication corrects that lens by highlighting the living culture of First Nations peoples from a number of different perspectives.

Connecting the artists’ indigenous culture with rigorous research, this exhibition challenges Australian art history.

A hilly landscape

The exhibition is mainly made up of textile works by the two artists, accompanied by two of the large-scale paintings by D.

Throughout the exhibition, objects and textile works are arranged on tightly assembled plinths of different heights.

Plinths are the white supports commonly used to ensure that sculptural works and statues can be examined closely. Most viewers don’t even notice them. But in D’s work, the line separating the base from the work is blurred.

Exhibition view of D Harding with Kate Harding: Through a Visitor Lens at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Photo: David James

As you enter, the lowest plinth is closest to the entrance, and the highest – measuring two meters high – is in the back corner furthest from the entrance. It creates an undulating landscape for the audience as they enter the gallery, and we feel an invitation to explore.

D told the audience at the opening that the plinths signal “hierarchies of care”. They embraced this gallery convention to showcase Indigenous culture with the same care reserved for classic treasures. Interventions like this go against the way museums have historically portrayed First Nations culture as anonymous ethnographic curiosities.

Pay attention to the object

In the middle of the plinth field are two wrapped objects that remain secret, carefully wrapped as if by a restorer preparing for safe storage.

Wall text reveals what the public cannot see: two of D’s works in 2018 Untitled Cloak and Cloak of Repression (ceremony for a gay marriage). Occupying the rest of the Penelope Gallery plinths are six textile works, visible but neatly folded to obscure an unobstructed view.

Exhibition view of D Harding with Kate Harding: Through a Visitor Lens at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Photo: David James.

The wrapped objects are reminiscent of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, drawing attention to the object, asking the audience to look at what is overlooked. D’s packaging protects indigenous knowledge that is not intended for general consumption and ensures cultural safety.

This is most explicit in a redacted reproduction of a photograph of Carnarvon Gorge: what is hidden from view can be as significant as what is on display.

The exhibit encourages thoughtful inquiry. Each of the works on display has been developed through years of sustained practice with deep respect for their materials, knowledge of place, Songlines and Indigenous cultural practices.

In Kate’s textile work, this inquiry is achieved through a range of quilts that use natural dyes, including the bold angular geometry of Carnarvon (2020) with more organic forms that dominate White Hill – looking for food in Clermont (2020). His works are stylistically diverse, each conveying different stories.

In this exhibition, D’s acclaimed pictorial practice is accompanied by textile work, making the work of the two artists often indistinguishable. This is most visible in Emetic Paint (Red and White International Rock Art) (2020), whose shapes and colors resonate with those found in Kate’s quilts.

The potential of materials to convey historical stories is clear in Blue background/dissociative (2017), which uses white ocher against a striking background of Reckitt’s Blue, emphasizing the diverse traditions that underlie this exhibition.

Left to right: D Harding, Blue ground/dissociative 2017 and Kate Harding, Carnarvon underground water 2020. Exhibition view of D Harding with D Harding with Kate Harding: Through a Tour Lens at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Photo: David James

The individual works, their careful presentation in this exhibition, and the publication demonstrate a deep respect for the language of contemporary art and Indigenous traditions.

It is a significant achievement.

D Harding with Kate Harding: Through a Lens of Visitation is underway at the University of Sydney’s Chau Chak Wing Museum.

The conversation

Scott East, Lecturer, UNSW Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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