Judy Watson: Collecting Australia


The Indigenous voice of Australia is over 65 000 years old. During NAIDOC Week 2019, with the theme of ‘voice, treaty and truth’, we invited award-winning author and Mununjali woman Ellen Van Neerven to develop a series of written responses entitled ‘Collecting Australia‘, which draw inspiration from works featured in our Australian Art Collection.

This is one of a three blogs by van Neerven, and features Judy Watson, combining her artwork with van Neerven’s poetry. You can also read poems inspired by Dale Harding and Destiny Deacon.

Judy Watson

The poem, ‘sacred ground beating heart’ takes its title from Judy Watson’s painting. I have always loved this work so I appreciated the chance to write to it. Plus the title just lends itself well to poetry!

I wrote this series of poems, ‘Collecting Australia’ in two places: in the Gallery sitting before the works, and abroad in Germany, where I had a travel engagement. I missed my Country a lot while I was away. I think this work really captures what that connection is like, how deeply it is felt through your whole body.

sacred ground beating heart 1989 is pinned to the gallery wall, and remains unstretched as exhibited, rebuffing the classical traditions of European paintings.

Judy Watson ‘sacred ground beating heart’ 1989

Judy Watson, Waanyi people, Australia b.1959 / sacred ground beating heart 1989
Judy Watson, Waanyi people, Australia b.1959 / sacred ground beating heart 1989 / Natural pigments and pastel on canvas / 215 x 190cm / Purchased 1990. The 1990 Moët & Chandon Art Acquisition Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Judy Watson/Copyright Agency

sacred ground beating heart

sacred ground beating heart
ancient sound feeding art
we’re all sleeping on a sensation
bigger than us, bigger than the body
if you roll me I’ll be thunder
if you squeeze me I’ll be dance
move, jahjam, move
put your feet in the earth
recover yourself
don’t stop dreaming
softly spin
all the way around
sacred ground beating heart
ancient sound feeding art

Ellen van Neerven (Meanjin, July 2019)

Judy Watson

Through paint and pigment Judy Watson, a descendant of the Waanyi people of north-west Queensland, offers evidence of intimate encounters with the heat, air and moisture and pulse of the earth — the geographical emblems of her heartland. These emblems are linked with Australian Aboriginal totemic beings or culture heroes who metamorphosed into landscape features such as hills and rocks, and who continue to manifest their presence as meteorological or astral phenomena. The unstretched canvas has been stained by layers of wet and dry pigment, creating a velvety, sensuous surface which is then marked by distinct touches of colour. The imagery suggests an aerial perspective of parched land, a depiction of distant homelands or a material translation of an emotional state.

Watch | Judy Watson discusses ‘sacred ground beating heart’

This project is part of ‘Drawing from the Collection’, a series of programs which invite you to take inspiration and draw ideas from the QAGOMA Collection through ongoing experiences from special events, to daily drop-in drawing.

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country. It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.