Maid, Monsters of Men
2022 Digital Award
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About the artwork and sitter
This work is both a serious and slightly playful self-portrait of the artist. It is a creative response to the family history research she has recently been undertaking.
Bianca Beetson’s work has been informed by “..digging deep into the archives, unsilencing of the past and unpacking the truths and lies. As a woman of colonial settler and Aboriginal decent it can be a challenge to try and understand where you belong and how do you begin to reconcile your own family history. She finds herself playfully contemplating…truths or lies, defiance and distain, monsters or men, warriors or statesmans, maid or slave, an embodiment of herstory.”
By using props and exaggerated expressions, she challenges notions of historical record, and presents an alternate view.
About the artist
Dr Bianca Beetson is a Kabi Kabi, Wiradjuri artist based in Meanjin. Beetson works across a broad range of media including painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, photography, fibre arts and public art. She was previously a member of the seminal artist collectives The Campfire Group and ProppaNOW. Her work explores how cultural connectivity and connection to country and family informs her identity.
Self portraits make some of the most interesting portraits because the act of looking at oneself, particularly as a woman artist, is an act of absolute interrogation and it’s not for the faint hearted.
This work is a parody, with Bianca Beetson representing herself in both colonial garb, but also as a kind of monster. The title of the work is Maid, Monsters of Men, and it clearly riffs on the representation of Aboriginal people throughout art history.
The portrait that comes to mind is the 1826 portrait of Bungaree by Augustus Earle, in which Bungaree is lampooning western traditions by wearing colonial dress. And he is also talking back, cheekily demanding a response. The role of the artist is, in fact, to talk back, to challenge power, and that idea runs through this compelling and powerful portrait.
The artist is also acknowledging the complexity of her heritage as an Aboriginal woman, who also has colonial heritage and the work interrogates how those two things impact identity and notions of self. She’s referencing the archive, so she’s looking back, but she’s looking back in order to look forward. Because Bungaree in the late 18th century was well aware of his capacity to parody or to lampoon those in power, and Bianca is doing it here, 250 years later.
Assistant Director, Artistic Programs
Art Gallery of South Australia
Chief Judge 2022