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‘Seeing life as a weave, this pattern (pretense, say) is not always complete and is varied in a multiplicity of ways. But we, in our conceptual world, keep on seeing the same, recurring with variations. That is how our concepts take it. For concepts are not for use on a single occasion.’1
Cultural identity is fluid and always evolving, but the degree of freedom of each individual depends upon the extent that each sees themselves as a free subject, rather than a defined object. For those of us with the privilege to live in a post-cultural society, the ideal is ambiguous and individual identity is not defined by race, gender or cultural background. When an attempt is made to define and categorise, certain freedoms are suppressed. Katina Davidson’s works in her exhibition ‘Seek: and you may not necessarily find’, offer a critical examination of current societal understandings of cultural identity through personal reflection.
As the title suggests, Davidson’s works present a search for understanding that is not immediately gained, and may never be entirely so. Representing this continuous pursuit, her works present a study of various contrasting components; parts which do not necessarily form a whole. The contrasting components reveal tensions in multiple ways: the works physically embody oppositions through their use of different mediums as well as their different methods of construction. Many of the works integrate both stitching and painting, such as Flee, which presents a contemporary landscape, delicately painted by freehand on Belgian linen (as opposed to a white canvas), then dressed in an overlay of intricate and meticulously calculated stitch work forming tessellated patterns.
Davidson identifies as a young Murri woman,2 with descendants from the Purga Mission (located on the outskirts of Ipswich, Queensland). Self Portrait at Purga Mission presents a narrative of personal and family history and embodies the overall premise of feeling lost, and the eternal search for common ground between all of life’s dichotomies. Specifically, this work reveals the artist’s primary concern with an emotional and transcendent connection to country while being physically disconnected, living in an urban environment. The work is hand painted on Belgian linen and incorporates a carefully considered use of negative space, leaving much of the foundation exposed.
The series Studies of the Periphery displays intricate and tight-knit stitch work, solely on one side of the border of a rectangular Belgian linen canvas—leaving the largest surface area (the face that would typically feature painting) entirely blank. These works emphatically emphasise the contrast between minimalist ideology and decorative art, and suggest a struggle to find a medium between other psychological and physical opposites, such as, masculine and feminine, escapism and realism, country and urban.
Incorporating entirely different mediums again, the work Legacy unites various ornamental objects, such as tiles and a necklace (representative of a breastplate). This work itself is deliberately decorative, and is not necessarily political or radical, but is a nod to the artist’s family who were political, as grass roots activists. ‘I bleed for the blacks’ is handwritten on one of the tiles; the words of Davidson’s grandfather when he handcuffed himself to a flagpole during a protest in Brisbane’s King George Square, and had someone repeatedly whip him. Davidson’s grandparents, Donald Davidson and Georgina Margaret Thompson OAM, (whose name is also handwritten on one of the tiles) had a significant part in setting up health care and aged care facilities, housing and legal services for Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders.3
Being part Indigenous, Davidson’s physical appearance conflicts with the ignorant perception, on the part of some people, of what an Indigenous Australian should look like. There have been many instances in which members of the public have imposed this ignorance upon her. While it would be ideal to live without constricting racial and cultural definitions, such instances reveal that society still has a long way to go. Legacy reflects Davidson’s knowledge and awareness of her cultural history and it is an attempt to broaden societal perceptions of cultural and racial identity.
‘Seek: and you may not necessarily find’ highlights a perpetual search, but what is sought is a definition that is constantly in flux. The human right to engage in a life of contradiction is the conflict between new fragmented discourses and prevailing belief systems. It may not be possible to find oneself a fixed identity that is accepted by all members of society, but that is precisely the point.
Katina Davidson, Studies of the periphery, Untitled 2, 2014. Detail.
1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel / Zettel, eds, G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, tr. G.E.M. Anscombe, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1967, Z. Section 568.
2. An Indigenous Australian from Queensland.
3. Georgina Margaret Thompson was granted an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 1985 ‘for service to the Aboriginal Community’.