Brenda L Croft - 'heart-in-hand'

Brenda L Croft

13 Jul 2018 to 8 Sep 2018

Held nationally each year, NAIDOC Week 2018 will be held from Sunday 8 July through to Sunday 15 July. The theme for NAIDOC Week 2018 is 'Because of Her, We Can!', to honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have played and continue to play significant roles in their families and communities lives at community, local, state and national levels. Further information: http://www.naidoc.org.au/get-involved/2018-theme

Artist Brenda L Croft, who has Gurindji/Malgnin/Mudburra; Anglo-Australian/Chinese/German/Irish heritage, has drawn upon this year’s theme to honour her mother Dorothy Jean Croft (1938 – 2010) on the 80th anniversary of her birth. Dorothy was a non-Indigenous woman, yet she played a significant role the artist’s family’s life - supporting the artist’s father in his search for, and reunification with, his mother after decades of separation; advocating for social equity at a local level; while also ensuring her children were proud of their Indigenous heritage.

The artist wishes to pay her sincere respects and acknowledgements to Traditional Custodians – past, present and future - on whose lands she is privileged to live and work: the Ngambri, Ngunawal and Ngunnawal Peoples, and also those with close clan connections, the Ngarigo and Wiradjuri Peoples. Marntaj.

Family has been a consistent theme in Brenda L Croft’s work over more than 30 years. Series of work including White Wedding/Love Letters (1987), Family Album (1991), In My Father’s House and In my mother’s garden (1998) have inscribed a loving but uncompromising account of her heritage using photographs, slides, personal and public archives audio and text that referenced the frequently traumatic experiences of many Aboriginal people, which also impacted non-Indigenous family members. Croft is a member of the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra peoples from the Northern Territory of Australia, and also has Anglo-Australian/German/Irish lineage. heart-in-hand is an exhibition imbued with an extraordinary emotional investment as it marks the 80th anniversary of her late mother’s birth, articulating her story through the objects she made, collected, and the cultural activities through which she created an enduring living portrait of her family. Part nostalgia, part Wunderkammer, heart-in-hand is a tribute to Dorothy Jean Croft (née Stone) (1938-2010). Describing her mother as “passionate archivist, … talented craft-maker, gifted amateur photographer and dedicated writer …”, Croft’s museum of motherhood records and constructs a complex characterisation of a woman who was, “witty, whip-smart and generous, she was also mercurial, known within our family for being ‘difficult’.”

Wunderkammer or cabinets of curiosities were encyclopaedic collections of objects belonging to the arts and sciences including historical/religious relics, objects from natural history, geology, ethnography, archaeology, as yet uncategorised. In Victorian times when the means of travel were limited, this essentially museological mode of presentation enabled audiences to have vicarious experience of worlds they could not otherwise know. The concept of Wunderkammer has been a useful tool for artists wishing to produce complex multifaceted installations that generate an atmospheric, yet concise, representation of their subject matter. Born in the final years of the Great Depression, Dorothy Croft grew up during a time in Australian history when every object pertaining to the family - particularly for families living on or below the breadline - carried great significance: while life was fleeting its broadly defined furnishings had at least an appearance of permanency. In a pre-consumer society of non-disposable ‘stuff’, it was women, housewives and mothers, who kept and maintained the family jewels, however modest.

Life the 1950s and 60s came to be viewed through a filter of Kodachrome Colour. An archivist extraordinaire, Dorothy Croft documented her life and times in the rich saturated hues of transparencies that would come to define an era. Her photographs detailing courtship with fiancé Joe Croft and later, family events evoke this period with meticulous accuracy. It was not only the slides, however, that survived to keep the memories alive. Collections of letters and telegrams, pattern books, clothes, records, baby teeth and locks of hair, crocheted crosses and coat hanger covers complete a comprehensive portrait of family life. Her photographs and a vast collection of similarly ‘melancholy objects’ live on long after her death, having gained intensity with the passing of time. heart-in-hand is not simply a portrait of Dorothy and her family but a social historical snapshot of the Canberra region that reflects the ‘new Australian’ during a period of optimism and openness. As the unforgiving days of economic depression and war began to fade into memory, Dorothy Croft and many other women of the time were the catalysts of unparalleled social change that continues to impact on our lives today. While many items in Croft’s cabinet of curiosities seem idiosyncratic, Dorothy Croft represents many mid-century Australian women whose lives bridged old and new worlds. Audiences might initially be tourists in the Crofts' reality but ultimately heart-in-hand brings them closer a common legacy passed down through our mothers and grandmothers.

Image: Brenda L Croft Dot 21 and Joe 33 Cooma 1959 (2018)

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