An exhibition of work by contemporary Australian artist, Danie Mellor, is on display at the University of Queensland Art Museum, St Lucia Campus, from 18 January to 27 April 2014. The exhibition includes works on paper, sculptures and installations from the past 12 years of Mellor’s career (2002-2014). As an artist of Indigenous and European cultural heritage, Mellor’s work critically examines post-settlement Australian history and the similarities between Indigenous and Western cultures. The Exhibition Curator, Maudie Palmer AO, has arranged the exhibition according to a number of significant themes including Arcadia, Cultural Warriors, Memento Mori, Ritual and Safekeeping, and Silent Witness.
The theme in the opening room of the exhibition, Ritual and Safekeeping, focuses on the similarities between rites and ceremonies of Indigenous and Western cultures. There is a series of delicate oval drawings titled A sojourn to the country #1-6 2011, which depict natural waterfalls from the Australian landscape. Waterfalls are considered symbols of tranquility and spiritual wellbeing in Indigenous cultures. Displayed alongside the waterfall drawings is a similar work titled, A sojourn to the country (Cook’s fountain) 2011, which depicts the Cook Memorial fountain in Canberra (a large water jet in Lake Burley Griffin). Whereas Western cultures tend to manufacture water features for commemorative purposes, Mellor’s waterfall drawings emphasise the fact that Indigenous cultures focus on natural readymade wonders.
The theme Silent Witness refers to the idea that native Australian animals are suspended between two cultures as silent onlookers to Australia’s post-settlement history. Red, white and blue 2008 is an installation of three taxidermy kangaroos encrusted in mosaic tiles. Each kangaroo is displayed in a different pose according to the proverb ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. The colour of the tiles on each kangaroo refers to the tricolours of the colonising British flag and the Australian flag as the kangaroo has been commodified to serve as a symbol of Australian nationalism.
Mellor’s work often embodies the Latin phrase ‘Memento mori’, which refers to the ephemeral nature of existence and human mortality (i.e. ‘remember that you will die’). Skeletons and skulls are often used as symbols of mortality in art. In the 17th-century Dutch still-life tradition cut flowers and ripening fruit also symbolise ‘Memento mori’. Piccaninny Paradise 2010 portrays a large skull and cross bones on a bed of cut flowers. The blue colour scheme is punctuated by five miniature Aboriginal figures situated on the top of the skull peering downwards and a variety of colourful native birds perched on the skull and bones. Evidently, Mellor’s work draws on the European tradition of ‘Memento mori’ and he also opens up a cross-cultural dialogue by including symbols of Indigenous culture.
By Rachel King
Danie Mellor: Exotic Lies Sacred Ties is on at the UQ Art Museum from 18 January to 27 April 2014. Please refer to the UQ Art Museum website for further details: http://www.artmuseum.uq.edu.au/danie-mellor-121571
Image: Danie Mellor Piccaninny paradise 2010. Pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on Saunders Waterford paper. Private collection, Sydney.