Exhibition News

Lorraine Connelly-Northey essay (June 2011)


Published Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Lorraine Connelly-Northey was one of four artists selected for an exhibition at the AlburyCity gallery. This is the essay I was commissioned to write.

Imagine that, shortly after World War II, a Serbian child found himself in one of a series of huts huddled around paths at the Bonegilla Reception and Training Centre outside Albury-Wodonga. The child owned a handsome green woollen suit with red lining and black braid; the jodhpur-style trousers were trimmed with grey fabric. It was a striking suit for any boy from that time and place.

Lorraine Connelly-Northey, with an eye for finely made clothing and materials, selected this piece from the AlburyCity Museum’s permanent collection. Responding to the quality of the suit, she read its story with growing fascination and learnt that it originally belonged to a child who was once a resident at the Bonegilla Centre.

Connelly-Northey, a Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) woman of mixed cultural descent from north-west Victoria, had uncovered one of the key themes central to her own artistic practice – the story of dispossessed people – and the agonising emotional journey they endure when forced to leave their home and country. She recognised a story that belonged not only to the thousands that came to Bonegilla, but also to her own people.

Connelly-Northey’s artistic response to the boy’s suit was to create 16 lap-laps (waistcloths or loincloths) out of discarded mesh and wire. Lap-laps were worn by Indigenous people for adornment as well as modesty. What is immediately obvious is that these lap-laps – made from rusted wire, tin and mesh – could never be worn by anyone; rather, they are artistic statements. They tell of the obvious contrast between European and traditional Aboriginal dress and ways of life, and of the differences in opportunity and needs, and the vast cultural divide between European and Indigenous adornment.

The construction of the lap-laps from scrap materials also makes a poignant point about dispossessed people’s lack of access to resources. By selecting discarded materials, Connelly-Northey hints at the consequences of displacement. She speaks of internment, hardship and deprivation, of having to make do with less. While the material is discarded and weathered debris, her finished art transforms the discarded into the desirable and collectible.

In these 16 pieces, Connelly-Northey works with demanding and unyielding materials to produce a poetic response. These beautiful baked and weathered objects speak of both the differences and the similarities between peoples. Her work resonates with the same aesthetic qualities that she recognises in the woollen suit, harmonising with the tragic stories of dispossession and lives lived on the margins. Connelly-Northey’s simple, yet elegant works celebrate the human spirit, the diversity of cultures, and a universal need for adornment and decoration. Moreover, her work is deeply affected by the suffering caused by wars and conflicts that continue to push the dispossessed to the margins of our society today.

Martin Shub, June 2011

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