Individualising Indigenous History: Julie Dowling’s Imagined Portraits

Ms. Amy Jackett - Post Graduate
2012 Conference

This paper examines the way Julie Dowling’s imagined portraits of Aboriginal people employ traditional portrait conventions to create powerful, emotive individual portraits that aim to individualise indigenous history. Imagining faces of her ancestors and influential Aboriginal freedom fighters, Dowling seeks to apotheosise figures from Aboriginal history, giving them heroic stature through portraiture. Drawing on Ernst Gombrich’s seminal essay, ‘The Mask and the Face: The Perception of Physiognomic Likeness in Life and Art’ (1972), I argue that Dowling manages to create an impression of life that makes her portraits accessible and affective to a broad audience. Dowling is a Badimaya Aboriginal artist based in Western Australia whose art confronts assimilation, dispossession, native title issues as well as racial discrimination. Her work reflects a personal and political drive to connect with her Aboriginal heritage. Many of her imagined portraits are of family members, as well as significant Aboriginal figures. In this paper I will analyse four of Julie Dowling’s imagined portraits. Each portrait highlights a different facet of her imagined portraiture.

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About the author

Amy Jackett is a Tasmanian artist and writer currently completing a PhD at the Tasmanian School of Art, University of Tasmania. Amy graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Tasmania in 2008, majoring in English and Art Theory. In 2009 she was awarded first class honours for her thesis on Benjamin Duterrau’s portrayals of Aboriginal people. Amy’s research interests include Australian art, landscape painting and portraiture.

Her doctoral thesis, entitled ‘Reviving Past Lives: Imagined Portraits of Australian Historical Figures in Landscape’, identifies a unique strand of portraiture which is termed ‘imagined’ as the portraits result from a temporal separation between subject and artist and involve a high degree of innovation in portraying the absent subject. All of the artworks under consideration are linked by a landscape setting in which person and place are intimately bound and inseparably remembered. How five different Australian artists visually bring figures from the past into present memory forms the central focus of her thesis.