Bucking history

Details from Mervyn Street’s ‘Bull ride’, 2015-2016

TWO artists separated by a century are the nexus of a new curation “dis/possession” at the Art Gallery of WA opening this week.

German-born artist Hans Heysen’s Droving into the Light depicts a drover moving sheep down a dusty sunbathed track, and was composed across seven years from 1914 to 1921 when Australia was a young nation sold as a land of opportunity for white colonists. 

Contemporary Gooniyandi artist Mervyn Street’s work Bull Ride portrays an Aboriginal cowboy on a thrashing bull.


Painted across 2015 and 2016, it draws on his time as a stockman in the Kimberley in the 1960s and 1970s.

They were fondly remembered days but not easy, marked by hard work and stolen wages that are the subject of a long-running class action case led by Street.

AGWA’s curator of historical art Melissa Harpley says: “By bringing these artists’ work together we can use an understanding of the past to start conversations about issues with shared importance for today’s audiences. These include questions around national identity, land ownership and use, and our relationship to the natural world.”

The two paintings form the centrepiece of the curation and are joined by works from the gallery’s collection painted by Heysen’s contemporaries, including George Clausen, Elioth Gruner, and Henri van Raalte. They’ve been on display in the past, but are this time offset by the darker reality of Street’s work and experience.

AGWA director Colin Walker said: “Dis/possession represents the Gallery’s thinking about how we engage with the State Art Collection, one of WA’s greatest visual assets, and find ways to display it that remain responsive and relevant to the contemporary moment.”

It’s free til March 26 and there are guided tours Wednesdays at 1pm and Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am.

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