Artistic eye held up to Mandurah and Pinjarra

AN ARTISTIC eye has been held up to Peel region for the Western Australian Museum’s spaced 2: future recall exhibit.

The exhibition asked 13 artists from around the world to create pieces inspired by regional sites, giving them a chance to leave the studio and get in touch with WA, according to John Day, state Arts Minister.

New Zealand artist Maddie Leach was invited to Mandurah to create a location-inspired piece based on an engagement with local residents, histories and landscapes.

Feeding primarily off the local history, Leach’s piece – a video of the creation of a lithograph – was inspired by her time here early last year.

“In the first two weeks of my residency, I went on a cultural tour to Pinjarra and in and around the place, and I was taken to the Pinjarra Massacre site,” she said. “There is this big boulder which has had plaques on it but they kept getting taken off.

“It seemed to me that I kept returning to this site in my mind and how there’s this constant traffic between Pinjarra and Mandurah – there is a strong connection between them.

“I think despite what one can think about Mandurah this is something which remains an unresolved issue in this part of the world. Does a resident artist reflect back to how Mandurah is perfect and lovely or something else?”

The Pinjarra massacre was an attack that occurred on a group of up to 80 Aboriginals by a detachment of 25 soldiers, police and settlers in October 1834.

“By 1834, things were more than desperate for [settler Thomas] Peel and his settlement, and there seemed to be but one answer to the problem – military force to break the Nyungar stronghold,” the Pinjarra Masscre site read. “At the same time, successful expansion of the colony required securing a line of garrisons between Perth and Albany, which would eventually develop into towns and be connected by road.”

Describing herself as “almost a foreign agency”, Leach always came into the project to focus on the cracks in society.

As a conceptual artist, she researched the historical event and how local governments have reacted to it over time, including council debates over whether it should be called a massacre or battle.

Sifting through piles of council documents Leach found that the date of the Pinjarra Massacre had been mistakenly written as 28th October 2834, instead of 1834.

It was from that typography mistake that inspired Leach to call the project 28th October 2834.

The research also led to the artist receiving a Shire of Murray document requesting a plaque be placed on the site of the “Battle of Pinjarra”.

“What this document says to me is that at least they wanted to put a plaque on the site, even if they say: ‘Battle of Pinjarra’,” she said.

“It seems the Shire of Murray have this theory that they need to soften the language.”

Leach said she felt governments in general underestimated how much communities have grown and in some instances the communities grew more than the governments.

She said this may be the case with the terminology surrounding the Pinjarra Massacre.

“I don’t feel like this is the end of the project,” Leach said. “The Perth showing is not the end of this; I would really like to screen the work at a Pinjarra library.

“This project has a quietening about it and is accompanying with the other things at the site. It’s observing the issue.”