Art can shine a light on hidden, shameful events in history, according to a new book by Queensland College of Art Professor Sue Best.
Professor Best will launch Reparative Aesthetics: Witnessing in Contemporary Art Photography at the Institute of Modern Art on November 19.
The book brings together the work of four contemporary photographers from the southern hemisphere: Rosângela Rennó (Brazil), Fiona Pardington (New Zealand), Anne Ferran (Australia) and Milagros de la Torre (Peru).
Professor Best said that the work of these artists drew attention to the power and beauty of original archival objects and images, instead of simply confronting or accusing the viewer.
“These works aren’t meant to evoke pity or voyeurism. It’s about holding the negative and positive together, looking at the past and present, damage and healing,” she said.
Using art to explore taboo topics
“It is part of the wider debate about guilt and shame in identity politics.
“If work simply shames the viewer, people just shut down and feel accused, so the message doesn’t get through.
“I wanted to examine artists who engaged with things that were uncomfortable or shameful and made it digestible.”
In the series ‘Vulgo [Alias]’, Rennó makes portraits from found identification photographs of prisoners taken at Sao Paulo Penitentiary in Brazil between 1920 and 1940.
Pardington uses large format photographs in the series ‘Āhua: A Beautiful Hesitation’, presenting nineteenth-century life casts made of Pacific peoples by early French explorers.
Ferran’s Lost to Worlds is a series of photographs and videos documenting the sites of two factories in Tasmania used to incarcerate women convicts and their children in the nineteenth century.
De la Torre’s ‘Lost Steps’ reconstructs the dark side of Peru’s social and political history, with photographs of archival objects associated with famous crimes and terror attacks.
Art helps the healing process
Professor Best said art could be a powerful way to process dark moments in history.
“Art gets lodged in the national consciousness,” she said.
“It makes us think, gives shape to things that we are feeling and says the unsaid.”
Professor Best is an art historian whose research focuses on modern and contemporary art, including body art and performance, women’s art, and Latin American art.
Her previous publications include Visualizing Feeling: Affect and the Feminine Avant-garde (2011), which won the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand Best Book Award in 2012.
Book launch details
WHAT: Launch of Reparative Aesthetics by Professor Susan Best
WHEN: 3pm, Saturday 19 November
WHERE: Institute of Modern Art, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 420 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley