WWI photographs the focus in contemporary art show

Artists respond to iconic work of war photographer Captain Frank Hurley in exhibition

University of Southern Queensland (USQ) academics have pooled their expertise with their involvement in a contemporary art exhibition reimagining World War One photographs at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery opening on August 4.

The exhibition draws together the educational and curatorial expertise of USQ academics Dr Martin Kerby and Associate Professor Janet McDonald assigned the challenge of responding to 100 year old iconic photographs of Australia’s Anzac history.

The photographs, taken by official war photographer Captain Frank Hurley, have inspired the exhibition Landscape and Memory: Frank Hurley and a Nation Imagined. The exhibition has provided eight contemporary artists with the opportunity to reimagine WW1 through a contemporary lens.

Dr Kerby, a Senior Lecturer in USQ’s School of Teacher Education and Early Childhood, said Hurley’s photographs of the war-torn landscape of the Western Front and the Middle East were hauntingly beautiful and iconic.

“The photographs provide an appropriate starting point for a ‘reimagining’ by the artists in this exhibition because they transcend the context in which they were created,” Dr Kerby said.

He revealed that to make sense of a conflict that left Australia as a broken nation required people to draw on familiar images, the most pervasive of which was the belief that the Australian people shared a special relationship with the land. 

The impact of war on Queenslanders is currently being explored by Dr Kerby who is a recent recipient of the 2017-2018 Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation Fellowship at the State Library of Queensland.

A lifelong interest in history and its importance in education has informed Dr Kerby’s curatorial premise for the exhibition which also includes a 40-page colour catalogue and education kit. 

The education kit has been written by two of the artists who also work in art education - Associate Professor Margaret Baguley (School of Linguistics, Adult and Specialist Education, USQ) and Dr Abbey MacDonald (University of Tasmania) and is aligned with the Australian Curriculum.

The catalogue juxtaposes Hurley’s images with the artists’ responses and includes further insight into their process of interpretation whilst simultaneously providing important historical context. The education kit guides students to a greater understanding of the impact of WW1 and the aesthetic choices made by Hurley and the artists responding to his work.

Fellow curator Associate Professor Janet McDonald from the USQ School of Arts and Communication said that without the ubiquitous use of technology that we are accustomed to, photographs such as Hurley’s take on even greater significance.

“Each of the artworks in this exhibition seek to connect with a specific Hurley image and reimagine it through a personal aesthetic. In this way, the artists not only challenge the loss of memories, but also explore the process of remembering.”

The artists included in the exhibition are: Michael Armstrong, Associate Professor Margaret Baguley, Dr Beata Batorowicz, Garry Dolan, Neville Heywood, Abbey MacDonald, Anne Smith, and David Usher.

Banner image: Anne SMITH / Lest We Forget 2018 / Metallic photographic paper mounted behind 6mm ultra clear toughened safety glass with polished edges / 104.5 x 2300cm

World War One artwork
Garry DOLAN / Villers-Bretonneux 2015 / Watercolour on canvas / 78 × 62cm