Two worlds collide

Helen S. Tiernan is a Canberra-based visual artist who majored in painting at the Australian National University (ANU) Canberra School of Art, graduating with Honours in 2001. Her widely exhibited work deals with historical and contemporary events and issues affecting Aboriginal people, particularly marginalisation and cultural retrieval. Transculturation: Sublime and Surreal Encounters of First Contact in the Antipodes opened on May 6 at Cooee Art Gallery in Bondi.

Tiernan’s works are informed by the way in which Aboriginal and Oceanic people have been represented in the varied accounts of Indigenous and European exchange and interaction over the 230 years since Cook’s first arrival in the Antipodes. Delving into the art and history of the region since the earliest colonial encounters, Tiernan references revelatory historical accounts by Bernard Smith, Ian McLean, Bill Gammage and Bruce Pascoe.

Her imagery plumbs the archival records of early ships artists, colonial painters and contemporary Aboriginal artists. Amongst the many whose works are referenced are Joseph Banks’ and Cook’s Polynesian navigator Tupaia, Conrad Martens, Augustus Earle, John Skinner Prout and Port Jackson painter Joseph Lycett; Aboriginal artists Albert Namatjira, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Rover Thomas, Danie Mellor and Laurie Nilsen; and Western artists including Sidney Nolan, Miriam Schapiro and Mark Rothko.

As she draws upon the works of dozens of writers and artists, employing wit, drama and humour, Tiernan seeks to challenge the viewer through paintings that range from large-scaled panoramic works to miniature portraiture. She fashions Aboriginal life and history as “live performance” where reality, time and space do not conform to expected norms. The eternal return of the Dreaming and the multi-layered Indigenous connection to place is as good a context as any in which to locate her work.

Tiernan creates, as if a curator or stage director, new contexts which are drawn from her own imaginings. While her works entertain through their theatricality, her urgent concern is to ask her audience to think again about the colonial depiction of Indigenous culture and Indigenous identity today. The exhibition includes two major panoramic works addressing first contact in Australia. Supporting these are others far more intimate in scale, which relate to the large-scale pieces.



May 6 – June 3, 2017

Cooee Art Gallery Bondi, 31 Lamrock Avenue, Bondi Beach

Phone 9300 9233. Free. All welcome.

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