Year

2002

Degree Name

Doctor of Creative Arts

Department

Faculty of Creative Arts

Abstract

This is an artistic response to Mrs Lindy Chamberlain and the drama that engulfed almost a decade of her life. That drama began with the loss of her baby Azaria to a dingo while on a family camping holiday at Uluru in Central Australia in 1980. Two years later she was wrongly convicted of the baby’s murder, and spent the next three-and-a-half years in gaol. Upon her release, she continued to fight to clear her name. Her conviction was finally quashed in 1989.

The Chamberlain drama was part of the almost daily news diet of Australians for some years, and still provokes strong reactions in many today. It was a story with powerful ingredients: the disappearance in the night of a helpless baby, into a remote desert landscape of ancient mythological significance; a contest for credibility between a defiant accused mother and a little understood native species of wild dog; forensic experts evoking horrific images of the baby’s last moments, using only her bloodied clothing but without her body; a co-accused husband and wife who were active members of a minority religious group that was noticeably different to mainstream Australian church denominations; and so on. The paintings discussed here explore the story’s many ongoing resonances and re-engage their viewers with it in new and positive ways.

The thesis comprises 36 works, most of which are acrylic on board or canvas. It includes ten portraits of the predominant personalities in the case, a number of pseudo-portraits (i.e. several reworked media-derived pictures of Lindy Chamberlain and four depictions of the ‘Dingo Spirit’), and approximately fifteen other related paintings. This documentation explores what influenced these works, including: the facts of the decade-long story; the implications of these facts; the artistic considerations involved, both technical and aesthetic; and some of the artworks, artistic traditions and critical theories about art that influenced the works’ design and execution or might subsequently shed light on their interpretation – especially the portraiture traditions of Europe and Australia, from the Renaissance to today.

This paper also provides: background material for each painting, a brief workby- work analysis of them, and a short history of their creation and exhibition.

The significance of this body of work is that it contributes to both the Chamberlain story itself and to the development of the role that art and artists play in Australian cultural life. In particular, it demonstrates a compelling social role for portraiture in Australia today. By depicting as a series the major characters and several key moments of an important historical episode, insights can be communicated, responses evoked, and positive social discourse furthered.

The project and its accompanying paper should be understood to insist that no single theory about art or our relationship with it can really render an artistic practice invalid. Rather, critical ideas from both past and present can and should be drawn upon simultaneously to assist in making meaning. This is consistent with the observation that artists and viewers alike appreciate artistic expression on many levels at once.

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