Who belongs here?—
The town of Hamilton has a strong history of sheep grazing and wool production, and has been referred to as the ‘wool capital of the world.’ The Hamilton Wool tapestry, based on a design by artist Les Kossatz and woven by Cheryl Thornton, Chris Cochius and Joy Smith at the Australian Tapestry Workshop, pays homage to this rich local history. While wool as fleece is a raw material, it can be spun into yarn and knitted into fabrics, as depicted in Makeda Duong’s Mixed Race Sweater. Duong’s hand knitted sweater merges the colours of the Australian flag on the front with the colours of the South Vietnamese flag on the back to explore the complexity of being biracial in Australia, and poses questions of belonging and place.
Reflection and agency connect the pairing of Francis Bacon with NC Qin & Felix Esteban. In Bacon’s aquatint, we see a figure at a washbasin, the form so exaggerated and distended as to appear almost abstract. The curved, sinuous forms of Bacon’s figure are visually mirrored in Birdsong, a contemporary glass reimagining of masks worn by European plague doctors. Modelled by the artist, the resulting photograph confronts the anti- Asian racism that followed the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Qin’s case, is the mask a method of protection, or imagery of ostracization?
Thinking about home in an Australian context requires an acknowledgement of Indigenous sovereignty and connection to land. Johnny Bulunbulun’s Man and Animals is one of the few Indigenous works in the collection of Hamilton Gallery, and its pairing with Kait James’ Let’s Dance reflects the ongoing and lasting effects of colonisation on Indigenous people today. James repurposes kitsch found tea towels to comment on questions of identity and cultural appropriation, critically examining the ways in which Indigenous culture has been consumed and sold without meaningful political action. The bright words that emblazon the tea towel are a vivid reminder of the work that still needs to be done.