‘Not for me, especially when colonialism is constantly being bagged’, reads a comment in a visitor book for a group exhibition Watson participated in. Ironically, the commenter is another Judy. This notion of bagging – Australian slang for criticising – serves as an unintentionally fitting moniker for Judy Watson’s practice. If the alter-Judy cannot even conceive of colonialism in the negative, Watson’s response is to re-insist on the pervasiveness of colonial genocide, materialising its complex traces and knots, while simultaneously drawing out the power and poetics of Waanyi life, language, knowledge, and culture.
While colonial baggage in Australia is often reacted to with defensiveness, Watson shows us the impossibility of denying the very stories that are the fibre of our being and existence when we live on Indigenous country.
This exhibition is an accretion of overlaps and overlays. A series of reworked jute bags points to multiple, entangled histories – of ration bags repurposed and resewn, exploited rural labour and land, and symbols of bags-over-heads as a reference to frontier and carceral violence. Her printworks are nuanced experimentations, with the names of matrilineal family, rivers, creeks, and stations like engravings within an unfolding archive across a matrix of colonial, ancestral, family, and personal histories.
Watson’s film skullduggery (2021), draws on letters about the collecting of Aboriginal peoples’ bones, and creates a kind of archival onslaught. Interlaced with the dehumanising content of the letters and a foreboding sense of colonial encroachment as inky blots move across the screen, is a substrate of critical resistance, as Aboriginal voices speak the words. Colonial bagging as continuous theft and displacement is ever intertwined with a series of counter flows, remembrances and returns.
By Jessyca Hutchens (Palyku)
1 & 2. Judy WATSON
bagging colonialism (study), 2023
indigo dyed hessian sacks
Installation view, Milani Gallery.
Photo by Carl Warner
Image courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Meanjin / Brisbane
The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.