Therese Ritchie - Short Grass People

<strong>Therese Ritchie</strong><br/>born 1961, Newcastle, NSW; currently resides in Darwin, NT<br/><br/><i>Shortgrass People 1</i> and <i>Shortgrass People 2</i> 2003 <br/>Inkjet print on German etching paper, APs <br/>Each 40 x 60 cm [image size] <br/>Gifted by the artist to the CDU Art Collection, 2010 - CDU2090 & CDU2091<br/>Images © the artist

Shortgrass People 1 and Shortgrass People 2 are drawn from Therese Ritchie’s and Chips Mackinolty’s joint suite of works Wish you were here, exhibited in Darwin in 2003.

In their catalogue essay, the artists described this series as “15 postcards from the edge of ambivalence about living in the Northern Territory”, a place which if “defined by anything, it is the transience of its non-Aboriginal population – whether we are passing through from Heidelberg in Germany, or are temporary refugees from Heidelberg, Victoria”.

Reflecting on a century and a half of literary and journalistic representations of the Territory – its people, landscapes and the events which have shaped its national profile – Wish you were here reassessed, in visual terms, contemporary “tall tales but true” in the tourism and marketing industries, and investigated what “really lurks behind the way Territorians should be seen”.

Shortgrass People 1 is a self-portrait parody of the artist: Ritchie wearing the loose cheese-cloth garments of a holiday-maker, standing on the concrete driveway of a tropical kit-home facing the sea, with a souvenir shop boomerang poised for release in her raised hand. The Aboriginal family walking past find her a source of curiosity and amusement.

Shortgrass People 2 is a caricature-portrait of fellow artist Chips Mackinolty, seated on the clipped lawn of a suburban home, with its ominous letterbox number, pretending to be a shopping mall back-packer painting an Arnhem Land-style didjeridu. The instrument is positioned between his feet in the same manner adopted by Aboriginal artists of the region, when painting or decorating traditional musical instruments and other three-dimensional art works. Mackinolty is being closely studied and photographed by an Aboriginal woman, who strikes a pose which has become ubiquitous with white visitors captured in tourist “hubs” throughout the Territory, keen to engage with Indigenous artists and take home a record of their experiences.

With razor-sharp humour and creative insight, Ritchie reappraises hackneyed cultural stereotypes of Northern Territory life and society, including portrayals of its Indigenous residents and non-Indigenous visitors, generated by commercial marketing and tourism slogans – and to some extent, perpetuated by Territorians themselves. In her crisply rendered, high-key colour digital collages, the visual vocabulary of this world is reassembled and inverted, with Aboriginal people casting their now re-empowered gaze upon us – the white “shortgrassers”, who have come to equate clichéd “pictures in our heads” with reality.

Therese Ann Ritchie graduated with a Diploma of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts from the NTU in 1985. She was awarded a Masters in Visual Arts from CDU in 2005. Her work is represented in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory Art Collection, Artbank, the National Gallery of Australia, Flinders University Art Museum, the Araluen Collections, the Togart Collection and private collections in Australia and abroad.

A major retrospective of Therese Ritchie’s and Chips Mackinolty’s work is the subject of the CDU Art Collection’s forthcoming exhibition, Not Dead Yet, opening at the CDU Art Gallery in Orange 12.1.02 on 11 August 2010 at 5pm, to be opened by Dr John Ah Kit.

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection and Art Gallery
29 July 2010

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