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In the early 1990s, I painted this series of large oil paintings on linen inspired by a collection of 19th century photographs from my family's archives.

 

The author of these photographs was Paul Foelsche, a German photographer and police inspector who travelled around South Australia between 1865 and 1880 to record and photograph members of indigenous tribes which were being sent into missions. These photographs entered the collection of my great grandfather, Frederick Simeon Carus Driffield (b. 1825), an acquaintance of Foelsche, also based in Adelaide.

 

I found these photos both haunting and very moving and, through the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies in Canberra, gained permission to use them as a basis for a series of large paintings on the theme of displacement.

These works allude to being treated as invisible/inferior while submitting to/being witness to officious injustice and displacement; in Australia in the 19th century, many tribes were rounded up against their will to be put in missions for "re-education".  The image of the alligator in the background of the diptych, "Sees all and is not seen" is a visual metaphor:  when in danger it can sink beneath the water and through the membrane of its eyes, observe its predator.

Click on any image for full view

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