Indralia re-interpreted vacant lot

Mary-Louise Edwards
Doggett Street Studios, Brisbane

Ten years ago at Delhi airport, in a departure as marked by its strangeness as my arrival had been, a large and evidently wealthy Indian matron swayed across the concrete floor towards my companion. She had come to ask if my fellow traveller was in fact 'Madonna'. Clearly unconvinced when informed that she was not speaking to Madonna, she waved to her waiting family and friends who were visibly impressed. At the time I felt a little cheated at being hauled back into a Western world far too prematurely by this unexpected exchange. Madonna, then and now, has impacted upon Indian life in a way that few Westerners may have realised. With the Western media barons owning much of the media in India, and a middle class population of around one hundred million, the Indians join the dubious ranks of the beneficiaries of a recycled trash Western culture. Although almost all Indian in content, image-wise the media continues to be influenced markedly by the West.

In a country where the Women's Movement is strong and women are seen to be taking up arms, converting to Buddhism and bandit and outlaw "queens" are almost commonplace, the media's depiction of working women, career women, projected as the liberated stereotype, are shown sitting at their computers, but usually in an unmistakably domestic setting. Edwards, in lndralia- Reinterpreted, returns to the site of the current treatment of women, by the media, in India and in Australia. Using large drops of acetate sheeting, the works engage as banners, bright, loud, vulgar and playful. What they address are the achievements of the middle class working women's movement in India, which continues to gain influence, but which also continues to be subverted by a masculinist media culture. The "banners" bear the painted motifs of village cultures, for example from areas in the north east of Bengali. These are symbols that only women produce, and which refer to such themes as marriage, birth and fertility. Appropriated by Edwards, they act as a screening device for other levels of information. The fluorescent colours and the hurried texts layered with fabrics and photocopies give us fragmented information, rather like the effect of visually scanning the endless racks of magazine covers at airport shops.

Edwards describes the effect as filmic, in the "Bollywood" storyboard genre. The artist has worked for some time now with ideas focussed upon how we see through the eyes of others, and through the imposed barriers of mass media culture. Edwards gives us more "windows" and hints at the physical and psychological impenetrability of being fed a screened diet of images about a distant India. The transparent acetate sheets become the veils of the Indian women, both concealing and revealing, their billowing folds reminiscent of sari emporiums. Edwards' view is the pastiche of an India unseen, a kitsch India, observed through barriers both psychological and cultural. She explains that, "under the plasticity are all the layers of medieval cultures and traditions". Through the heavily doctored and edited magazines, cleaned up for export, reports about changes in women's lives, and images of stereotypes become just so much "eyewash" and in Edwards' piece, Changes an Eyewash, which strips away the decorative disguises, she effectively directs our attention to the so-called "heart of the matter."

Edwards continued her use of the acetate sheeting in the Vacant Lot installation, housed simultaneously in a separate area of the gallery. This time, the location of investigation is the new urban housing development of the Logan city area, at the southern outskirts of Brisbane. This area can be as daunting to the "outsider" as a first visit to India can be to some. Here Edwards 'turns over' the rendered brickwork to reveal the dark underbelly of the "politeness" of outer suburbia, and playing with the modernist grid, she interrogates the notion of the sublime in town planning.

"To build the new house and towns, we need men who are intelligent, cold and calm,' (Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, 1923). Le Corbusier expressed the view that the question of building was at the root of contemporary social unrest. Edwards returns to Logan, where she lived as a school child, to rethink the area that now has, as its heart, the 'Hyperdome'. In addressing her concerns over the vast differences between the "haves" and "have nots" she alerts us to the current media projection of this simmering area as the new frontier, promising opportunity, lifestyle and new growth excitement. Where the modernist purity of red, yellow and blue prevail today we call this terracotta, buttercup and aqua. Exposing however, what she sees as essentially a monotone culture, Edwards covers over the colour with white paint giving a pristine facade, while at the rear of these sheets the clawed and scratched marks expose the "true colours" suggesting violent panic.

It may well have been the smallness of the gallery space, or perhaps my own sense of panic surfacing, in either case, the desire to leave this space was as overwhelming as the graffiti-like text, exhorting the real estate rhetoric, which promises something better only "fifteen minutes away".