From the curator
Warning: This work references subject matter relating to Indigenous deaths in custody.
The shadows of history are never too far away, scratch the surface and they will appear. In watershadow by Judy Watson, we are immersed in country and asked to reflect on what has been made to disappear. As we walk through the installation of inviting flowing hand painted fabrics we are surrounded by blood red reused welding curtains with pierced braille notations of the names of some of the people who were listed in the ‘Deaths in Custody’ report which were recently released with permission of the families in the Guardian newspaper. In dialogue with them are representations of what Judy calls ‘heart strings’, an organic form which represents the string of her Ancestors, often made with hair and plant fibre but is also symbolic of rope and referencing the metaphoric ‘hanging’ of First Peoples through the violence of deaths in custody. The heartstring manifests in the painted fabric works and in three-dimensional form, rendered in twisted steel it moves slowly in the space, casting its presence through shadow into the room.
The film projected through the space locates us to Kulin country, and Judy worked with sound artist, Michael Hewes beneath the site of Flinders Street Station to record the flow of water under Elizabeth St and Flinders St which is a natural waterway from pre-colonial times. Capturing the sounds of country that are beneath the city and also connecting to Wurundjeri country of Healesville and the Birrarung Marr, Judy links Aboriginal land beyond the built environment.
There is a strong contrast in this installation that shares the lightness and love of water country and community that still flows and the trauma felt by ongoing colonial violence against First Peoples, which is often pushed to the periphery and escapes accountability and justice. It is both a mediation of country and what is beneath the city but also raising awareness of the harsh realities that First Peoples community continue to face. Water is healing and cleansing, and in watershadow we can both feel the pain of our history and current realities whilst mediating on the calming an Ancient water of country.
“The metal sculptural form remembers bush string being twisted and twined and rolled along the leg. Its sinuous form evokes the passing of the loved one to the night sky, a shadow on our heart.”
watershadow By Judy Watson
a shadow on our hearts
from within the well
the sound of the sea breaking through
tumbling rocks within its void
devour the seaside cliffs
The room is around 5 meters by 5 meters and there is a cream pipe scaffolding that goes around the parameter of the room. In the middle of the room there is a scaffolding pole. Hanging off the scaffolding are thick plastic red welding curtains that have brail punctured through them which details various sections the names of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who have died in custody.
Dispersed through the watershadow installation is dyed fabrics which feature early maps of the flinders street area along with cultural motifs from the artist including a heart string- string that is representative of hair string and Ancestral belongings made of string and also a reference to rope, linking to the brail curtains. There is a video collage which shows water tunnels under the city and the lush landscape of Healesville, connecting the water of the river and the site of Flinders Street. There are sounds of water rushing. Directly opposite the door as you come in there is a heartstring in three-dimensional form rendered in steel, slowly moving.
water shadow (2023)
Judy Watson (Waanyi)
Sound Designer and Audio Engineer | Michael Hewes
Video Editor | Josh Maguire
Audio-Visual Consultant | Ross Manning
Steel sculpture fabrication | UAP
Judy Watson's work references the article ‘The staggering omission that led to Deaths Inside, the tally tracking Indigenous deaths in custody’, published in The Guardian, 17 May 2023