Before I moved to Australia from England in late December 1993, my writing centred around long deliberations over titles of paintings and artist statements for exhibitions. In Australia, I began writing and publishing poetry and essays. I felt a deep sense of displacement being so far from my son, friends, and a country where I felt at home. I realised how the many places in which I've lived have profoundly affected how I see the world, my sense of well-being, and my art practice. Too often in the west we underestimate the power of place in our lives. Indigenous cultures do not make that mistake.
Between 1998 and 2004, I had the privilege of spending extensive periods of time with Anmatyerre and Alyawarre women at the Aboriginal outstation of Utopia. Aboriginal Australians have the oldest continuous traditional culture on earth, with current estimates of up to 80,000 years. Their Dreaming stories and strong connections to their land and ancestors determine what they paint on their bodies and canvases. At Utopia, I looked closely at how the artists used repetition in their paintings, and at the effect the resulting surface shimmer has on beholders in art galleries. Western viewers are often mesmerized by indigenous art hanging on the white walls of art galleries without understanding their content and the context in which they were painted. Aboriginal Australians lived in harmony on their ancestral lands until 1788 when British colonisation catastrophically disrupted their lives. Their land was taken by force, often in massacres, and they were displaced far from their homelands to harsh Christian missions that forbade them speaking their native languages. It is hard to comprehend how traumatic it is for a land-based culture not to have access to their land, nor be able to do rituals for its regeneration. Many Aboriginal people still suffer from trauma due to their ancestors’ displacement and ill-treatment, and the racism and abuse which they still experience. I came to see how Eurocentric readings of indigenous art and the aesthetic gaze eliminate cultural difference, and discovered what is often taken for granted: the ground beneath our feet.
To better understand the overwhelming complexities that I encountered at Utopia, I did a PhD in the Art History and Theory Department at the University of New South Wales in Sydney entitled Art of Place and Displacement: Embodied Perception and the Haptic Ground. My research included my interview with the late Canadian-American artist Agnes Martin at her home and studio in Taos, New Mexico, surrounded by land sacred to the Pueblo and Hopi people.
When I returned alone to live full-time in England in 2018, I began a memoir which I've recently completed, and for which I hope to find a publisher.
I have made minor adjustments and additions to the following essays which have been published over the past twenty-five years.
© Photograph and text copyright Dr. Victoria King 2023.