Sun, Aug 19, 2001 - Page 19 News List

Tracey Moffatt's outback comes to Taipei

Although dealing with aspects of the Aboriginal experience in Australia, Moffatt believes that her works are open to interpretations that cross cultural boundaries

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Mother's Day (1975) by Tracey Moffatt.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TAIPEI FINE ARTS MUSEUM

Between 1940s and 1960s, Australian legislation prescribed the removal of all indigenous children from their natural parents at birth to be adopted by white families. Among the thousands of aboriginal children who never saw their natural parents again is Tracey Moffatt. The Australian aboriginal photographer and filmmaker was born in 1960 and grew up in her foster family in a working class suburb of Brisbane, Australia. Her particular background has incorporated ethnic and gender elements into her work.

The current Tracey Moffatt exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum marks the first time her works have been shown in Taiwan. On display are four photo series, two films created between 1989 and 1998, and a documentary about her career. They include her short film Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy and her first feature film Bedevil, both of which have participated in the Cannes Film Festival.

Moffatt has admitted to being deeply influenced by "trash TV" -- soap operas, talk shows, American horror films and sports programs -- in creating her visual works. But she cited her subconscious as the most important source for her imagery. These scenes from her daydreams lend a surreal quality to her works.

Since the photo series Something More, also on show at TFAM, won her international recognition in 1989, the meticulously set up scenes in the photos and the combination of them to present a story have become her trademark. Her critics have termed her presentation "photodrama."

The photos, set in a small, decrepit wooden house by a desert highway, tell the story of a beautiful woman who tries to escape from her barren life among her many lovers to start a new life in a big city. First bogged down by the lovers' tenaciousness, her attempt finally comes to a tragic end when their possessiveness proves fatal.

The sensuous colors and artificial composition resemble scenes from B-movies of the 1950s. However, these photos are definitely different from film stills. The photographic techniques Moffatt uses mean that each photo is able to stand alone. These images resonate, creating different stories in different people's imaginations.

The Scarred for Life series is composed of nine snapshots, each with its own caption. Their format and style are derived from 1960s editions of Life magazine, although they deal with a less upbeat subject -- the strained relationships between generations and the resulting emotional loss that changes teenagers lives. The combined force of photos and their captions gives life to these slices of teenage life wrought with sexual and familial conflicts and peer pressure.

Inspired by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasoloni, the Up in the Sky series shows the tough existence in the Australian outback through 25 ochre and steel-blue offset prints. The first print shows a white mother holding an Aboriginal baby, unaware of the three menacing nuns approaching her house, who later take away the baby, and continues through a number of episodes that lead to an open ending.

The short film Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy also has an Aboriginal adoptee as its main character. The film depicts the love-hate relationships between an Aboriginal daughter and her elderly white mother.

Although at first glance, most of the exhibits deal with gender or ethnic issues, Moffatt said that she is not trying to make any social comments, but rather finds it natural to place Aborigines in her works.

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