Michael Keighery | Dead Man’s Penny

Marking 100 years since Gallipolli this year, 2015 is a time of commemoration and reflection for all Australians. For artist Michael Keighery the diary of his great uncle Frank's diary from Gallipoli permeated his practice - working through the emotion laden memory of the Gallipoli campaign.


Frank Keighery’s family were one of 1.35 million families throughout the British Empire to receive a Memorial Plaque inscribed with Frank’s name – this became known ironically as the Dead Man’s Penny.  The plaques inscribed with the words He Died for Freedom and Honour and the name only of the officer who died – no rank or other codesindicating equal sacrifice in death.

Titled the Dead Man’s Penny, the exhibition directly confronts the cost of Gallipolli – making 8,709 hand squeezed and moulded knuckles of clay to represent the number of Australian soldiers killed in 1915. Mounted on the wall, the tactile pieces differ in size and shape, with the overall force of the installation creating a wave of the past and contemporary feelings of grief, frustration, and anger surrounding the futility of the campaign.

Centering on the diary of Keighery’s Great Uncle Frank, the diary is written in the enigmatic Pitman Shorthand, which Keighery was only able to comprehend with the help of translators. The individuality of the script, alongside military jargon made for a hard translation, however if anything it reflects the inability of the present to every fully comprehend the experience of those who suffered through Gallipoli.

Taking inspiration from Frank’s poetry, and the practice of soldiers to create ‘trench art’ of decorated artillery shell castings to pass the time,the Dead Man’s Penny reworks and recreates these past objects to create symbols of familial loss, and reveal this cultural anomaly that was created within a time of war and destruction.

Originally showcased in September in Canberra at the Watson’s Art Centre, this is a pop up exhibition, free to the public, at Janet Clayton Gallery. A pertinent and reflective end to 2015 – the Dead Man’s Penny closes the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign.

Michael Keighery | Dead Man’s Penny
Until 20 December 

Janet Clayton Gallery 

Image 1 : Hand made clay scrolls and ceramic artillery castings from Dead Man’s Penny. Michael Keighery
Image 2: Michale Kieghery in the studio

Courtesy the artist and Janet Clayton Gallery 

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