THE WA art gallery’s latest exhibition treats visitors to a glimpse of Western Australia as seen by European settlers.
It’s a vision of a pristine landscape around the Swan River; unadorned, but not uninhabited as the exhibition’s title Unknown Land suggests.
Curator Melissa Harpley says that the title was drawn from a rough translation of ‘Terra Australis Incognita’, which was how colonialists viewed Australia at the time.
It’s an acknowledged European perspective of 19th century Western Australia, so the art gallery is also running two concurrent exhibitions featuring Aboriginal artists to “counterpoint and complement” this point of view.
Ms Harpley says Unknown Land displays artwork primarily from AGWA’s own collection, making it unusual to curate. It’s also a challenge because contributors range from professional artists through to scientific drawings by naval officers and even sketches by convict artists.
Some of the artwork also served as propaganda, depicting Western Australia as an inviting paradise for would-be European settlers.
“It’s such important material: a record of this place and especially the visual history of that place through the 19th century period”, Ms Harpley says.
“They present an image of the Swan River area as lush, fertile; there’s not much undergrowth so for English eyes it looks sort of park-like.”
Unknown Land will be at the gallery of Western Australia until January 30.
by TRILOKESH CHANMUGAM