The New Bathers

Remember When with Caloundra Regional Gallery

Image source: Contributed

Nina Shadforth explores the Coastal connections and cultural undercurrents as part of the Caloundra Regional Gallery’s latest exhibition.

We have now officially farewelled the Australian summer in a physical sense by seasonal change, but also in our recent memories. However, we find ourselves holding onto traces in our minds of the joy spending our leisure time at the beach, from bathing in the warmer waters or being tossed about in the surf to the gritty and glittery gold sand, collecting buckets of it for sandcastles – or for it to end up in your swimmers! So, as we gravitate to the comfort of the indoors, rugging up to endure shorter, cooler days, revive the memories of warmer weather to tide you over until winter ends!

Caloundra Regional Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘Coastal Connections: beach culture past to present’ is a broad reveal
of associations with the beach and telling stories of such through art, film, cultural heritage, history, First Nations’ perspectives and popular culture nostalgia. The notion of enjoying a day at the beach we generally associate with a healthy lifestyle, some vitamin D in small doses coupled with the therapeutic properties of the salt water on the skin.Generally a relaxing pastime (cue the archetype bronzed ‘Aussie’ on the beach), but also as a refresh from the daily grind. 

We also take the beach for granted, as ‘free for all’; a public beach – reliable and accessible, that we can head to on
a whim, unlike restricted access of privately-owned beaches overseas. The beach is a ‘given’ in Australia and
“…we’ve always seen it as a place where social and class distinctions disappear under the pursuit of pleasure and fun.” (Wendy Garden, 2015, ‘On The Beach’ exhibition Curator, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery).

As a place for inspiration, artists have depicted the beach in all manner of media: paint, print, photography and in 3D; and more recently as sculptural installations, embedded or ephemeral, in the sand along the foreshore, at Swell Sculpture Festival, that over time has become a major tourist attraction for the Gold Coast. 

Beach-inspired artworks in the Coastal Connections exhibition depict renowned shorelines of the East Coast, with some celebrating human interaction as well. Summer Evening on Bulcock Beach, (top right) by Brisbane artist Mary Williams, is not only a delightfully nostalgic impression of swimmers enjoying the beach on a hot balmy evening, it is a technically accomplished lithograph print, having used multiple coloured inks to create the image. As well as being a visual document of a time in regional Queensland’s social history, the work has also recorded a set of public diving platforms that have since been removed on Bulcock Beach. 

Other works in the exhibition explore themes of conflict and identity. In particular, Sydney-based artist Anne Zahalka challenges the archetype Australian on the beach by bringing diversity to the fore in her studio photographs. The most notable example is her post-modern work: The Bathers (1989), a re-interpretation of the famous Charles Meere painting, Australian Beach Pattern (1940), and mimicking Meere’s composition in a new perspective of modern-day cultural diversity in Australia. More recently, Zahalka re-worked the earlier re-interpretation to produce The New Bathers (2013) (above), staged in her studio with a fabricated backdrop of the beach, complete with beach props, sand and subjects of different cultural backgrounds. The New Bathers is a more contemporary version with an emphasis on representation of connection to place and cultural identity.

Working in a similar context, is Brisbane-based First Nations artist and member of Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples, Vernon Ah Kee whose practice is multi-faceted, political and cleverly executed. His works incorporate text, photography/video, drawings of ancestors, and installations projecting themes of conflict, colonisation, and racially motivated violence in connection to place and identity. Conceptually tongue-in-cheek in nature, one work on display from his series of wegrewhere digital prints (part of a larger installation exhibited at the 2009 Venice Bienale), depict Aboriginal surfers and surfboards painted with Yidinji shield designs, thus prompting us to consider the cultural undercurrents and colonial narratives that passively continue to exist in and around us. This wegrewhere series of digital works, were created in response to the Cronulla beach race riots in 2005.

For First Nations peoples the beach has been and will always be a spiritual place for culture, celebrating and feasting as determined by the seasons, along with ceremony and as a place all peoples can gather. 

Kabi-Kabi/Gubbi Gubbi / Wakka Wakka artist and elder, Aunty Hope O’Chin’s paintings embody her strong cultural and spiritual connection to both land and sea, and she paints about rites of passage, ceremony and dreaming, such as: Budjar Bi’a’wa Dreaming (Eagle Dreaming) (top right). Created in 2019, in a traditional aesthetic style, it represents the relationships of humans to other creatures that shared the environment, incorporating an important message to take from the environment only what is needed for continued survival and not extinction. 

Other dreaming works in the exhibition talk of renewing family bonds and welcoming new family through rituals of hunting, creating gifts to exchange, and songs and dances. 

Diving deeper into ‘connections’ there is an abundance of First Nations arts and culture content to immerse yourself in through a broad-reaching collective exhibition initiative: Connecting Stories. 

Developed through a partnership between Creative Arts Alliance, Blaklash Creative and members of the South East Queensland North (SEQN) Galleries Network: namely Gympie Regional Art Gallery, Noosa Regional Gallery, Caloundra Regional Gallery (+Arts and Ecology Centre), USC Art Gallery, Moreton Bay Regional Galleries, The Condensery/Somerset Regional Art Gallery and Redland Art Gallery.

A brilliant concept, Connecting Stories is the first of its kind as a cross-regional initiative, showcasing First Nations art and culture through exhibitions, public art trails, tours, workshops, artist talks and events across six local government areas within the South East Queensland Northern region. Launching in May during Reconciliation Week, it continues through to NAIDOC week in July. 

For more:

The New Bathers

Anne Zahalka, The New Bathers, 2013, Type C print, edition of 5 + 2 A/P, 74 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the artist and ARC ONE Gallery, Melbourne.

Hope O’Chin (Kabi Kabi/Gubbi-Gubbi /  Wakka-Wakka) Budjar Bi’a’wa Dreaming (Eagle Dreaming), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 58.5cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Your Life Photography

Mary Williams, Summer Evening on Bulcock Beach, 1980, ed. 1/30, lithograph print in multiple inks, Gift of Ian and Elizabeth Primrose, 2019. Sunshine Coast Art Collection. Photo: Carl Warner 

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