Squatters and Savages: Ballarat Art Gallery

Right:
Megan Evans and Peter Waples-Crowe, still from Squatters and Savages, 2017, HD video – 06:00
Below right:
Megan Evans and Peter Waples-Crowe, Sovereign, 2017, Victorian era bedroom chair, leather, carving forks
Below:
Megan Evans and Peter Waples-Crowe, Bleeding Chandelier, 2017, antique chandelier, glass beads
Bottom right:
Megan Evans and Peter Waples-Crowe, Hunting Party 2, 2017, antique chair, embroidery thread, glass beads

Artists Peter Waples-Crowe and Megan Evans speak with Jack Callil about the Squatters and Savages exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

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Imprint: What is the Squatters and Savages exhibition about?

Peter Waples-Crowe: I was asked to reimagine some 19th century prints of Indigenous people the Art Gallery of Ballarat collects. It started in 2013 when I was using old images of Aboriginal people in collage techniques to revise them—and it grew out of that. The Gallery had this collection of Indigenous prints and didn’t know what to do with it. But they wanted an Indigenous person to work with it, so that’s how the project came along.

Imprint: What are you both trying to communicate through the artwork?

PW-C: What I’m trying to do in my work is bring some of these works into the contemporary. As a gay Aboriginal fella, some of them comment on that. Some comment on Aboriginal history. Things that weren’t covered then—that we’re not just objects of ornaments, we’re living people. I’ve put them in living scenarios and used a lot of sarcastic humour. I’m fascinated by the images themselves as an Aboriginal person because they don’t seem to represent me as a contemporary Aboriginal person.

Megan Evans: And I have a different perspective from Peter. My perspective is from someone of a colonial settler heritage. I’m interested in how someone in the 21st century can take responsibility for actions of people from the past—particularly people you’ve descended from. One of the things that I’ve always felt missing from the whole ‘Sorry’ apology movement, which went on for a long time and still goes on, is that no-one has really taken responsibility. The mistake a lot of people make is they think, ‘Well, it wasn’t me, it was something that happened in the past’.

Imprint: What reasons did you have for collaborating with one another, and what did it achieve?

ME: I’ve collaborated a lot in the past with Indigenous artists, but this was really special. We collaborated conceptually, but we didn’t work on each another’s work—other than the video piece—we just did our own response to these prints. So I think the benefit of working together was that our works bounced off one another, and his approach was different to mine, but we both responding to the same thing.

PW-C: Megan’s great grandparents were Scottish/Irish too, and they settled back in this place in north-eastern Victoria. And my mob are Ngarigo, and we go back up a bit further. So we come from a similar location, same sort of history, so that was sort of magic as well. And the show is much stronger with the two of our works there. Megan uses revisions of colonial furniture, and I was struck by her craftsmanship. I was interrogating that similar space, so I thought it would be amazing to work together. And I love collaborations.

Imprint: There’s an idea of inherited guilt in Australia – how did you approach that in this work?

ME: Peter asked me once if my work was all about ‘white guilt’. And I said it’s not about guilt, and that I don’t think guilt is a useful thing at all. In fact, guilt is a violent thing. All it does is suppresses the people who’ve been oppressed. They feel bad in bringing anything up, and they can’t get angry, they can’t express their pain.

PW-C: Yeah, Megan doesn’t want guilt. She says there’s this responsibility that people own up for that era. That’s what has to happen for true reconciliation. People have to see they’ve taken their white privileges at the expense of other people. A lot of Aboriginal art is about telling stories that haven’t been told, or were written out of history. History goes to the victor. Aboriginal history is written by non-Aboriginal people. We’re not in control of our own history. We’re trying to recapture that. Just trying to tell some stories. Tell some truths. I think people take that away. – Jack Callil

Squatters and Savages is at Ballarat Art Gallery until 16 July