Hands holding a white ochre 'kopi' a traditional Aboriginal mourning cap

Ceremony (Teena McCarthy)

Artist’s Statement
A picture of an Indigenous woman in mourning

Teena McCarthy, ‘Ceremony: Like the River Bled’. silk blend

‘Among the aborigines inhabiting the Darling and Lower Murray Rivers, New South Wales, it was customary for the female relatives of a deceased person to plaster they’re faces and heads with white clay and gash themselves to such an extent that the blood flowed over the clay onto their shoulders.’

— R. H. Goddard. ‘Kopi: Funerary Skull Caps’, The Journal of the Anthropological Society of New South Wales, August 1936 Vol. 2, No. 2, pages 125 – 127.

Ceremony references The Darling River, the ‘Mother’ to the Barkindji Peoples. The Darling and its tributaries has for countless generations nourished the Barkindji with not only food and transport, but spiritual succulence.

A picture of an Indigenous woman with her face painted in white ochre and covered in black writing

Teena McCarthy, ‘Ceremony: Black on White’. pigment print on butchers paper

Since Colonisation, the river has undergone massive degradation, more so in recent decades, with fruit and cotton farmers using the water to irrigate their crops. This use, coupled with prolonged drought and the stealing of water, has left The Darling, for large parts of the year, with intermittent dry beds and pools of green, stagnant water. My show protests the ‘dying’ of the Darling and also references my Lament for the Barkindji Peoples who were historically slaughtered and diseased by Captain Charles Sturt, Sir Thomas Mitchell and Post-Colonial Whiteman.

Teena McCarthy, ‘Bilyera: Wedgetail Eagle Totem’. pigment print on butchers paper

Affection for the land and the river runs deep in me. The erosion of culture and the fragility of land and river are informed in my art by the materiality of its making. The two are intertwined. The Kopi expresses ‘sorry business’ and is a metaphor for the central theme of my work. I enjoy the process of working with materials which help to tell this story. The fragility of the land is reflected in the fragility of the butchers paper which the photographs are printed on. The sculptural Kopis of the installation work are made from religious tracts, cotton balls and white ochre (kaolin), which reflect my concerns.

Ceremony consists of Performance Photography, Paintings, Sculpture and Installation work and is dedicated to my Nanna, Father and my Barkindji ancestors.

BHP (Be Humble Please)

(painting & poetry for Nanna)

black by day
white by night
this broken ol’ town
all battered and burned
high gutters in case of a storm
silver & gold
yes! you were born
you gave yourself so mercilessly
bromide, chromate and lead
you were bled
dry like the riverbed
oh, my darling
river of young and old
where if you’re lucky
you may find gold
women in long dresses
formaldehyde and babies’ clothes
faces of the strong men
who came in droves
the settlers, all holed up in a
house on a hill
with a chapel and an ol’ donkey
just standing
in the mud
near the well
when just over the hill
10 kms out of town
there you were
your plains as red
as dry
as the river bled

Note: Feature image is by Teena McCarthy, ‘Ceremony: Offering’. Pigment Print on Butchers Paper

McCarthy’s latest show Ceremony (18 July – 4 August) will be launched by Djon Mundine OAM on Saturday 21 July, 2 30 – 4 30 pm at Art Atrium, 181 Old South Head Road, Bondi Junction. For more information and for enquires regarding McCarthy’s work, visit Art Atrium

Photo credit: Bill Hope, 2012.

Teena McCarthy is a visual artist and poet who works predominantly in painting, photography and performance art. She graduated in 2014 from UNSW Art & Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Distinction.

McCarthy is an Italian/Barkindji woman who is a descendant of The Stolen Generations. Her work documents her family’s displacement and Aboriginal Australian’s loss of Culture and their ‘hidden’ history. While acknowledging the intergenerational pain of post colonialism, McCarthy uses wit, humour and pathos to explore her own identity. Synchronicity also comes into play in McCarthy’s experimental painting, often determining its outcome and informing its own materiality.

McCarthy has exhibited extensively over the past seven years, most recently in Four Women: (I do belong) Double, curated by Djon Mundine OAM, Lismore Regional Gallery, 2017, and in Realising Mother, curated by Zurica Pulija, with co-curators Sandy Edwards and Luke Letourneau, Kudos Galleries, UNSW Art & Design, 2017. Her work from this show was featured  in an article and interview in The Sydney Morning Herald and written about by Jasmine Salomon in her article ‘Envisioning the Subjective Maternal Body’ in Real Time magazine. McCarthy’s work has also been written about by Helen Grace, Associate Dept. of Gender & Cultural Studies, University of Sydney, in her ‘Motherhood Statements’ in the Realising Mother catalogue, and by Djon Mundine OAM and Virginia Fraser in their essays in the Four Women exhibition catalogue.

Selective exhibitions include: A Widening Gap: The Intervention, 10 Years On, curated by Djon Mundine OAM, at The Cross Arts Project, Potts Point, 2017;  When are the Bush Marys Coming, as Featured Artist at Cementa ’17,  curated by Ann Finnegan, plus a 12 day artists residency in Kandos, NSW; ARTLANDS Old Lands, New Marks exhibition, curated by Djon Mundine OAM, as Featured Artist, Dubbo Regional Gallery, 2016; That I May be of Service – Motto of the Clan Foley, curated by Djon Mundine OAM  at The Rocks Discovery Museum, 2015 & 2014.

McCarthy was a finalist in The 70th Year Mosman Art Prize at Mosman Art Gallery, 2017, selected by Kirsten Paisley, Deputy Director of National Gallery of Australia; The NSW Parliament Aboriginal Art Prize 2015 & 2014, and in 2013 was commissioned to paint the cover of the UNSW Law Faculty’s Reconciliation Action Plan, a painting which was later acquired for the UNSW Permanent Art Collection.

In 2011 McCarthy curated iNTervention Intervention, a protest exhibition about the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act, aka The Intervention, under Brendan Penzar’s Curator Mentorship Program at ATVP gallery. This show drew local and international acclaim, and the exhibition was recently acknowledged as the first of its kind in the book ‘And there’ll be NO dancing’: Perspectives on Policies Impacting Indigenous Australia since 2007 (Baehr, E. & Schmidt-Haberkamp, B. Eds. 2017, Cambridge Scholars Publishing).

McCarthy’s latest show Ceremony (18 July – 4 August) will be launched by Djon Mundine OAM on Saturday 21 July, 2 30 – 4 30 pm at Art Atrium, 181 Old South Head Road, Bondi Junction. For more information and for enquires regarding McCarthy’s work, visit Art Atrium