Issue 5
Monday, 01 July 2019
Charles Darwin University
Dr Judy Lovell with some of the
Dr Judy Lovell with some of the "Stuart" images on display

Art exhibit reflects multiple points of view

By Patrick Nelson

An exhibition of art works that reflect a wide range of attitudes towards a statue of explorer John McDouall Stuart has been on public display in Alice Springs.

Charles Darwin University Northern Institute Senior Research Fellow and co-curator Dr Judith Lovell said the exhibition, titled “Monumental in a small-town way: If art is about perception, then how perceptive are we?”, was a collection of visual responses towards the statue, which was gifted to Alice Springs to mark the 150th anniversary of Stuart’s first journey to Central Australia.

“Exhibited together, this collection of work provides a wider perspective on how this monument has been perceived by the public,” Dr Lovell said.

“Creatively, people responded to Stuart the man, his actions or stories about him; or they expressed their experience of the monument and the implications of benefactor-donated public art. Views ranged from those appreciative of Stuart’s legacy to those who find the monument offensive.”

Dr Lovell said the exercise raised broader questions about why some stories and some histories were given preference over others simply by being placed in the public domain.

“Why is one history, rather than another, celebrated? Some people don’t place the same significance in a colonial explorer’s achievement that others do. The choice to celebrate this explorer, in this way, at this time in Alice Springs begged us to ask: Why his story? Why this version of the past?”

Dr Lovell said the fact the statue was first put up in 2010, removed, then re-erected in 2013 enticed her curiosity in how small-town public administration, the arts and society interact in public spaces.

With support from University Fellow Kathleen Wallace, Dr Lovell made a print containing black ink outlines of the statue from four angles, which were given to about 25 participants for their arts-based responses.

“It was partly inspired by public engagement art initiatives in cities around the world,” she said.

“Importantly, making art is for some of us an essential way to communicate. This exhibition expresses the diverse feelings and points of view of these exhibiting artists. The process has engaged a wider public, without an argument, debate or conflict.”