Reparative Aesthetics on show at GUAG

​Portrait of a life cast of Matoua Tawai, Aotearoa/New Zealand (noir) from ‘Ahua: A beautiful hesitation’ series, 2010, Fiona Pardington

Long-forgotten images of peoples from the South Pacific and South America have been revitalised in a new photographic exhibition at Griffith University Art Gallery.

Opening on Thursday 28 April in South Bank, Reparative Aesthetics features the work of renowned contemporary artists Rosângela Rennó (Brazil) and Fiona Pardington (New Zealand).

Gallery Director, Angela Goddard, says the photographic works adopt a reparative approach to the representation of the disempowered.

“This is a compelling and powerful exhibition that will have strong resonance, providing a new perspective on artefacts and archives with dark histories,” Ms Goddard said.

Exhibition curator Susan Best, Professor of Art History and Fine Art at Griffith University, says “to date, the critical literature on the trend of the “archival turn” in contemporary art has paid little attention to artists from the southern hemisphere”.

“As a result, Rennó and Pardington’s unusual reparative approaches to historical archives have passed unnoticed,” Professor Best said.

“The work of these two artists makes us look again at the treatment of the vulnerable, their objectification in the interests of science and/or security, while also surprising us with their sensuous depictions of anthropological specimens and the convict body.”

Pardington’s works feature photographs of life-casts made during the 1837-40 voyage of French explorer Dumont d’Urville to Oceania, now held at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

The series has a strong personal resonance for Pardington: included among the images are some of her Māori ancestors from the iwi (or tribe) Ngāi Tahu. Given this connection, Pardington adopts what she calls an ‘animistic’ Māori perspective on these anthropological artefacts.

“The power of the portraits partly derives from this underpinning philosophy — Pardington has photographed inanimate objects as if they are alive,” Professor Best said.

Rennó’s work is drawn from her series Vulgo [Alias], which features archival images from the Penitentiary Museum of São Paulo. She personally intervened to rescue thousands of identification portraits of prisoners taken between 1920-40, which were otherwise destined for oblivion.

Rennó then selected, enlarged and tinted images from the archive taken of the crowns and backs of prisoners’ heads and the way the closely-cropped hair reveals individual patterns of growth and scars like the unique whorls of a fingerprint.

Reparative Aesthetics is on tour from the University Art Gallery, University of Sydney.

28 April to 2 July, 2016
Griffith University Art Gallery
Queensland College of Art, 226 Grey Street, South Bank, Brisbane
Open 11am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturday (closed public holidays)