(Australia, United States of America 12 Nov 1960 – )
2 photographs: each 40.0 x 50.0 cm sheet; 54.6 x 58.6 x 4.4 cm frame
In her latest series ‘Plantation’, Tracey Moffatt combines contemporary and historical photographic processes, incorporating late 19th century presentation and colonial-style imagery while experimenting with the alternative printing of digital photography onto a warped surface of dried paint. Laid down upon handmade paper, with its nuance of unique fibres and wrinkling, the antiquated feel of these photographs is enhanced, as the artist deliberately steers us to reconsider the past.
Moffatt’s neatly paired images, with their elegant vignetting that creates fanciful roundels and Orientalist fan shapes, conjure up colonial society’s airs of gentility and civility. Ever the subversive, however, Moffatt ruptures this façade with scenes from a sugar plantation that are filled with foreboding and fire. Viewed as a group the simmering tensions of race relations, fears and desires of life upon the colonial plantation ignite.
Moffatt clearly references the experiences of Indigenous and Melanesian (or “Kanakas’ as they were locally referred to), used as a cheap labour force on Australian cane fields yet these images intentionally suggest the questionable histories of colonial plantations across the world, wherever indentured labour and exploitation occurred.
Her considered placement of a black male figure in many of the images suggests the shifting perception of his ‘place’ and identity. Positioned close to the homestead, he is faceless, shirtless and muscular, a figure of fear or desire.
An ambiguous narrative, implications of violence and desire, and the interrogation of identity both real and imposed are recurring elements in Moffatt’s practice and all make themselves felt in the ‘Plantation’ series.
Julie Ewington, The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, ‘Tracey Moffatt: plantation’, pg.140-1, 2009, 140-1. illustration of nos.1 and 5