Bringing light to the uncomfortable truth of Australia’s settlement, and its ongoing race relations, Yhonnie Scarce is one of the first contemporary Australian artists to explore the political and aesthetic power of glass.
A Kokatha, Nukunu and Mirning woman, Scarce’s homelands are the desert country of the vast Nullarbor Plain and Great Australian Bight, and it is therefore not a chance occurrence that the transmutation of sand through heat into glass is a material rich with analogy.
As a material, glass can be both incredibly strong and intensely fragile, and for Scarce this is a perfect metaphor for the effects of colonisation on Aboriginal culture — having been brought to its breaking point, it has managed to sustain itself. As Scarce states, ‘if glass breaks, it’s always going to leave something behind’.
Squeezed to near breaking point, the glass bush bananas of Not willing to suffocate, 2012 are held tight by the metaphorical grip of colonisation. They reference the highly controversial studies carried out on Aboriginal people — including members of Scarce’s own family — by researchers and ethnographers such as Norman Tindale throughout the 1920s and ’30s. The black-lustre bruising on the fruit reflects the constant sense of suffocation and experimentation experienced by Aboriginal Australians, due to the government and missionary policies that controlled their ability to express their culture. This work was a finalist in the Cicely and Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award 2012 at the National Gallery of Victoria.