in eyes that looked at you
by Celia Dottore
Three decades after her first short film, Nice Coloured Girls (1987), Tracey Moffatt’s photographic series Body Remembers (2017) continues to examine Australia’s colonial history and its legacy.(2) In staging this new body of work, the artist references aspects of popular culture and her own back catalogue to address the historical oppression of Indigenous Australian women and the largely unspoken history of domestic servitude.
Dressed in a twentieth century maid uniform, Moffatt inhabits the protagonist – a lone figure on a remote and abandoned property. Here, a warm sepia veil envelops black and white as blinding sunlight streams into cool interiors and casts long shadows across arid terrain. The strange relationships between human, built and natural elements create a new dimension in which time and space expand and contract.
As if in a dream, the woman at the centre of the work performs a series of intimate actions conveying moments of reflection, emotion and anticipation. Her gaze is averted, leaving the viewer to search for clues amongst scattered ruins and fragments of time. In pursuit of meaning, our imagination fills the gaps and silences in Bedroom, Spanish Window and Worship—which project longing and desire—
whilst Kitchen, Touch and Weep suggest the possibility of
more troubling scenarios at play.
Tales of violence, inequality and exploitation echo both within and beyond these scenes, resonating with the untold stories of so many women that are gradually being given a voice. As a personal response to this shift, Moffatt’s work questions the pervasive cultural narratives of our nation and the weight of our collective memory and amnesia. In our current climate, Body Remembers is a powerful meditation on the shape of our being and remembering.
The title of this text is from the 1918 poem, ‘Body, remember’ by Greek poet CP Cavafy, which inspired the title of Tracey Moffatt’s 2017 series.
Body Remembers was exhibited in My Horizon curated by Natalie King for the 2017 Venice Biennale and in Tracey Moffatt: Body Remembers, Art Gallery of South Australia in 2018.