Brenda L Croft

Leading contemporary Australian artist Brenda L. Croft employs a considered approach to the exploration of her Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra and Irish/German/Chinese/ Australian heritage.

In her first solo exhibition at Niagara Galleries, ‘hand/made/held/ground’, Croft adopts the role of temporary caretaker and embarks on the process of reinterpreting and reinvigorating First Nations’ cultural objects. In it, she presents a multi-media installation that maps her intimate patrilineal relationship and repatriation journey honouring an ancient spear tip and stone axe belonging to her Gurindji homelands in the Victoria River region of the Northern Territory.

Croft encountered the stone axe when participating on remote site visits with Gurindji elders and other community members in 2014. The origins of such cultural objects often remain unresolved, however in this case the stone axe was directly connected to the Gurindji country. The maker and time of creation remains unknown, however the object is known to have survived over 130 years of pastoral impact until Croft ‘discovered’ it on the remote site visit – or as she considers, the object found her.

The narrative of the spear tip is far more extensive. It was given to Croft under temporary care by Gurindji Walk-Off supporter, Lyn Riddett, who had received it as a gift from an Elder at Daguragu in 1971. In the following years, the tip of the spear was accidentally broken before it was able to be repatriated to the Gurindji community, via Croft.

Caretaker of the spear in its fragmented state, Croft repaired the object with wax and had a wax mould made of it, along with a mould of the stone axe. With permission from family and community members, Croft used the moulds to create multiples of these significant cultural objects, which are no longer made on Country.

These multiples come together in a mixed media installation comprised of black and red lead crystal, clear and uranium glass cast stone axes and spear tips. The multiple ‘descendant’ objects are mounted on a combination of new and aged steel bases that have been dispersed onto the floor and upwards, fixed to the walls. Each object is lit individually from within, and their considered configuration is reflective of constellations hanging in the night sky.

Satellite images accompany the spear tips and stone axes. These photographs map the journeys Croft embarked on alone as well as those taken accompanied by family and Gurindji community members. When placed together, the satellite images and cultural objects map a connection between the land and sky. As the lights pulse on and off, their beating comes into sync with the footsteps pressed into the face of the earth and mimic the beating hearts of the people the objects belong to.

Croft’s exploration and excavation of the journeys made by these objects does not conclude with ‘hand/made/held/ground’ of the alluring objects presented within the exhibition space, but instead reverberate beyond the confines of the gallery walls and revive the originals. The repetition and reproduction of the cultural objects does not lead to the original’s loss of significance, but rather allows her to embark on a process of repatriation. Croft has determined that a number of the cast spear tips will be provided to the original artisan’s descendants, in cases where the reunion is possible.

The original stone axe is currently touring – alongside other repatriated objects – in the collaborative exhibition, ‘Still in my mind: Gurindji location, experience and visuality’, curated by Croft as part of her practice-led doctoral research.

Through ‘hand/made/held/ground’, Croft does not only mend the original cultural objects, but plays a small role in in retrieving and piecing back together aspects of Gurindji cultural history that has been fractured through the ongoing impact of colonisation.

EXHIBITION
Brenda L. Croft: hand/made/held/ground
19 November – 14 December 2019
Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

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