Hybrid mythical creatures and giant Australian animals are common encounters in the artwork of Sharon West. Set in a traditional landscape, West presents a unique way of exploring the relationships between the white settler, Aboriginal cultures and the Australian landscape. The artist navigates within Australia’s colonial narratives to highlight the cultural conditions of settlement, and the accompanying dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land.
West’s artwork is grounded in satire and, at the same time, references Australian landscape movement paintings, reflecting colonial perspectives of history and myth, while imbued with the artist’s imagination and personal narratives. Offering re-imagined glimpses of Victorian history with people of the Kulin Nation, West creates statements about colonisation as an evolving historical and cultural process.
The inspiration for No Place for a Village is John Wesley Burtt’s Batman’s treaty with the aborigines at Merri Creek, 6th June, 1835 (c.1875), a European interpretation of a pivotal moment in history that underplays the onerous implications for the Indigenous participants who, within 25 years of signing the treaty, had been relocated to missions on the outskirts of Melbourne. On the banks of the Merri Creek, where it joins up with the Yarra River, John Batman balances precariously in the jaws of a giant eel grimly clutching his Treaty document. Aboriginal elders wait and watch with interest while Kangaroosters and other hybrid curios forage for food close by. A comical scene with a foreboding undercurrent, West shifts the balance of power to directly challenge the validity of the Treaty negotiations.
West has developed a comprehensive and impressive body of work examining the relationship between settler and Indigenous cultures within the context of Australian colonial art history. She practices principally with the mediums of painting, assemblage and digital media. West has exhibited widely in Australia and has curated a number of exhibitions working primarily with Victorian Indigenous artists. She is the recipient of various awards including the Excellence in Conceptual Photography Award Kodak Salon (CCP, 2011) Bendigo Bank Emerging Award for the ANL Maritime Art Awards (Mission to Seafarers, 2011), and winner of the Darebin Art Show (2011). Her artwork is held in public collections including the State Library of Victoria, City of Melbourne and the Museum of the British Empire (UK) as well as many private collections.
No Place for a Village © Sharon West