Imagining Ned

Throughout history, figures have emerged whose story encompasses themes of admiration, fear, heroism and cowardice. There seems to be a particular fascination with the glorification of the villain, with many exploring the lives and experiences of these individuals.

The bushranger Ned Kelly’s legendary story carries a legacy that lives on in Australia. Deemed by some a murderous criminal and others a misunderstood outcast, the debate about Ned continues more than a century later. Many have scrutinised the evidence surrounding the story with artists, filmmakers and playwrights interpreting this significant piece of history through their perspectives.

Bendigo Art Gallery’s current exhibition Imagining Ned showcases one of the most extensive collections of art influenced by the Ned Kelly story.

Imagining Ned provides a detailed overview of the Ned Kelly narrative with pieces revealing elements unfamiliar to what is generally known. Artists within the show demonstrate their understanding and connections to this history. Artworks displayed come from some of Australia’s most significant public and private collections with artists including Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd, Adam Cullen, Juan Davila, Guan Wei and Norman Lindsay. Also on display are Sidney Nolan’s depictions of Kelly and the Australian landscape with paintings that explore themes of violence, injustice, love and betrayal.

Interpretations of Ned Kelly are demonstrated through artworks and original artifacts including Kelly’s iconic armour and weaponry alongside a collection of newspaper and letters. On view is a rare screening of extracts from the 1906 Ned Kelly feature by Charles Tait. Another significant piece is an excerpt of the ‘Jerilderie Letter’ which outlines Kelly’s views and feelings of injustice. Kelly’s letter allows a wider insight into his beliefs which propelled him to make his controversial decisions. At the time, this letter did not reach its intended destination to a newspaper and parliamentarian, only becoming public in 1930.

Bendigo Art Gallery was the ideal location to hold the exhibition, as Gallery Director Karen Quinlan explains. “When we set out to develop Imagining Ned, first and foremost in my mind was that this exhibition was absolutely ideal for Bendigo and, indeed, north-central Victoria. Bendigo is technically on the fringes of ‘Kelly Country’ and it was our geographical proximity to this area as much as our fascination with the collision of art and history that formed the basis of this compelling exhibition.” The exhibition’s atmosphere is enhanced by the history of this symbolic location.

While the legend of Ned Kelly is widely known, opinions continue to argue in support of and against his past endeavours. Imagining Ned brings new ideas into play by suggesting alternate perceptions through works that question previous opinions of the legacy of Ned Kelly. As Quinlan reflects, “It is the interpretation by each new generation of artists, writers and performing artists that reacquaints us with the past and helps us to understand why the Kelly story continues to resonate in Australia today.”

With the ever-changing views of Ned Kelly, artists continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding his character which remains to be an influential part of Australian art history.

Imagining Ned
Bendigo Art Gallery
Until 28 June, 2015

Image courtesy the artists and Bendigo Art Gallery

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