On the Couch with Judy Watson

Judy Watson Arts Review On the CouchWho is Judy Watson?
I am an artist living in Brisbane. My mother’s Aboriginal family are from North West Queensland, Waanyi language group, our Country is cut by the Northern Territory border.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
I would like to be out in the environment more regularly, bushwalking swimming in the ocean and in freshwater. I would love to go back again to our Country in North West Queensland with family, spending time together. It’s a long way from Brisbane but these visits to Lawn Hill Gorge, Louie Creek, Riversleigh Station and other important places sustain me and are the source of my culture.

Who inspires you and why?
My grandmother, Grace Isaacson has always inspired me with her love of family, her strength and dignity. I use the image of the backbone as a metaphor for Aboriginal women who fight to keep hold of family, culture and country. My parents: Joyce and Don Watson are a great example of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people in Australia.

Strong Aboriginal women like Mary Grahame, Henriette Fourmile, June Oscar, Gaye Sculthorpe and Lilla Watson, Tiga Bayles (who will be greatly missed for his insightful radio interviews), writers like Tony Roberts, Henry Reynolds, Fiona Paisley, Libby Connors, singers like Kev Carmody, Paul Kelly, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, researchers, archivists, like Marg Reid who connects Aboriginal people with their family history.

Artists like Dale Harding, a young Qld Aboriginal contemporary artist and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu from Yirrkala whose work is full of life and energy, Julie Gough and Jonathan Jones who were part of the exhibition, Unsettled: Stories within at the National Museum of Australia (NMA), curators, like Hetti Perkins, Stephen Gilchrist and Bruce McLean, actors, like Debra Mailman, Lea Purcel, Kelton Pell, musicians, choreographers and dancers, Stephen and David Page, Frances Rings, film-makers like Rachel Perkins, Warwick Thornton, Sally Riley, Catriona McKenzie – who bring the stories and histories of Aboriginal people and other cultures to a wider audience and wake up the dead who are not dead but live in all of us.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Try to educate people about the concealed histories within Australia. Try to contribute to stopping the degradation of the reef and rainforest, our forests, waterways, deserts and ecosystem. Encourage respect for Indigenous people, for difference, for women and for the environment. Work with people across art forms as a way of healing and nourishing and enriching our inner lives.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Waanyi Country in North West Queensland and Burrum Heads – a childhood holiday destination with my father’s family. Stradbroke Island and O’Reilly’s in the Lamington National Park are wonderful and accessible from Brisbane.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Brisbane has some great galleries like GOMA, Queensland Museum and the State Library of Queensland. My mother, Joyce Watson’s Goanna – a public sculpture she collaborated on is situated at the corner of Boundary Street and Russell Streets in West End – it is a good place to sit and look and contemplate the passing parade. I would tell them that this was part of the of the One Square Mile exclusion zone. Troopers would ride around with stock whips enforcing the boundaries between Sunset and Sunrise. Tom Petrie created the ironbark boundary markers that demarcated the zone. Many towns throughout Australia had these exclusion zones that Aboriginal people had to live outside of.

What are you currently reading?
A lot of books related to art projects. Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, Black Seeds has been one of the most influential books and has shaped my thoughts on the scarifier exhibition at TarraWarra Museum of Art (TWMA). The Lone Protestor by Fiona Paisley for my work on AM Fernando, Aboriginal protester as part of the exhibition, Unsettled: Stories within at the NMA.

Judith Wright’s The Cry for the Dead, Tony Robert’s Frontier Justice, Timothy Bottom’s Conspiracy of Silence and Bruce Elder’s Blood on the Wattle – that fed into my project, the names of places. This is part of an exhibition When Silence Falls at the Art Gallery of NSW and an ongoing data-base being developed that will be available to the public about massacre sites or other places where Aboriginal people have been killed in Australia. The names may come from research by historians or by hearsay where somebody has heard something about a place they know where something like this has occurred.

Warrior by Libby Connors about an Aboriginal warrior, Dundalli in the 1840’s in Brisbane and South East Queensland. Not just Black and White by Lesley and Tammy Williams. Coranderrk Database by Mick Woiwood and the Minutes of Evidence 1881 Victorian Parliamentary Coranderrk Enquiry for my art installation, the scarifier at TWMA. About to read Aboriginal Campsites of Greater Brisbane by Ray Kerkhove and Stan Grant’s Talking to my Country. Also the other two Elena Ferrante books following on from My Brilliant Friend.

What are you currently listening to?
In the studio and car, I listen to 98.9 FM for the Murri Hour when I can and Radio National for current affairs, arts, music and intelligence. I love Cannot Buy My Soul where other artists sing Kev Carmody’s songs, particularly the Drover’s Wife. I just bought Buried Country 2 and have listened to the original along with the new CD.  I love 60’s Soul, blues, the soundtrack for Latcho Drum, Cesaria Evora, Nina Simone, Gurrumul, Nina Pastori, Annie Lennox, Tina Harrod, Gillian Welch, St Paul and the Broken Bones, Nikki Hill, and anything to make me dance.

Happiness is?
Being with my family on the beach, swimming or walking near a cool creek shaded by beautiful trees, hearing bird calls and listening to memories of place. Making artwork gives me intense pleasure and focus and feeds my soul.

What does the future hold for you?
This year I have two solo exhibitions coming up at Milani Gallery in Brisbane and Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne. In 2017, I will be showing work at the National Gallery of Australia in the NIAT exhibition. I am looking forward to going up to the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair from the 15th – 17th July 2016, and seeing the wealth of new talent, music, performance and talks from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and communities with my family around me.

Judy Watson: the scarifier is currently on display at TarraWarra Museum of Art until 31 July 2016. Judy is also included in a group exhibition at the Monash University Museum of Art from 30 April to 2 July 2016.

Image: Judy Watson- photo by Sharon Hickey