Hetti Perkins is curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of NSW. She curated Papunya Tula: genesis and genius, a remarkable exhibition in 2000, which sought to tell the story of perhaps the most profound and fundamental art movement of this country.
Perkins has great experience in articulating and presenting the art of her people. She co-curated Fluent, Australia’s contribution to the 1997 Venice Biennale and was a curator at Boomalli Aboriginal Arts Co-operative. As the eldest child of the late Charles Perkins, she grew up through difficult times, and has lived in and travelled through much of the country. She continues to present the beauty and power of Indigenous visual heritage.
Mathew Lynn found Papunya Tula: genesis and genius an overwhelming and humbling experience, compelling him to reassess what he felt was his rather superficial conception of the land and the meaning of 'connectedness’ to it. The extent to which something so rich and enlightened lay beneath the veneer of our young global culture, so powerfully explained in this exhibition, was a shock to him. He wanted to convey his admiration of Perkins through this portrait, seeking to combine her strength and directness as well as a little melancholy. Although he found her a very modest, self-effacing person, he wanted the viewer to be compelled to look at and perhaps empathise with her. The background, more an idea of a landscape, helps to focus attention on her.
Lynn has exhibited in the Archibald five times before. In 1997 he was a runner-up and voted People’s Choice with his portrait of Jeanne Ryckmans. He was also a runner-up in 1998 with his portrait of Guan Wei.