In 2019, artist and Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal man Dale Harding made a copy of Sidney Nolan’s painting ‘Landscape Carnarvon Range Queensland’ on his studio wall after paying a visit to the site himself. Kooramindanji (the Carnarvon Gorge) is a site rich with ancient rock paintings, carvings and stencils that Western artists such as Margaret Preston, Mike Parr and Nolan had visited and represented in their work over the twentieth century.
After copying the Nolan painting to his wall, Dale began thinking about the act of temporary access to land, and what it means to be a local. This led him inevitably to ruminate on how much material was borrowed from Indigenous art practices and places to inform the Australian Modernist movement heralded by non-Indigenous artists. These questions that followed formed the basis for Dale’s new exhibition, Through A Lens of Visitation, which is on now at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA).
Consisting of large-scale paintings by Dale and fabric quilt works by his mother, renowned textile artist Kate Harding, the exhibition pulls together materials and techniques from the pair’s ancestral country to represent details of the land and communities around Carnarvon Gorge and its surrounding plateau, which is part of the Great Diving Range.
Dale’s paintings bring together materials such as ochre pigments, laundry detergent, Chinese ink and gum made from acacia tree sap onto panels made from felted wool, linen or paper, while sculptural pieces made from botanical resin, glass and lead are among his other featured works.
Interspersed among these painted and sculptural works are Kate’s fabric art, which take the form of textile wall hangings. An active custodian of Carnarvon Gorge, Kate has been quilting since the early 80s – drawing on traditional teachings from her Catholic school and by watching her mother and grandmother’s sewing, crocheting and embroidery practices at home.
Generations of women on Kate’s mother’s side were engaged in domestic ‘service’, which adds a layer of settler influence to the craft. When she took up the craft in 2008, Kate began experimenting ways her quilt-making could be divorced from Western conventions. She uses ochre dyes from Country instead of prints to colour her fabrics, and taught herself how to sew miniaturised pityuri bags she had seen at a museum using traditional methods. She then sewed these tiny pouches sporadically into her quilts.
‘These ochre dyed fabrics are understood as exhibiting the colours imbued with the stories of Kate’s ancestral territories,’ says Dale. From all angles, Kate’s quilts represent the relationship between home, Country and art-making.
In the past, Dale’s work has been centred on telling oral histories and describing acts of violence against Australia’s First Nations people. Now, his shifted focus is on finding fresh ways to communicate ancestral knowledge through materials.
‘By making contemporary artworks that can be read by our families and communities on a cultural level, there have been ways of sharing Central Queensland perspectives with audiences around the world,’ says Dale. ‘My interest is to grow familiarity and visual literacy of Central Queensland art forms, in ways that strengthen them into the future for those who live and practice them.’
‘Through A Lens of Visitation‘ is on at Monash University Museum of Art from 28 April – 26 June 2021.
Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
900 Dandenong Road
Ground Floor, Building F