Pulse of the earth: sacred ground beating heart


To celebrate International Women’s Day, we profile Judy Watson’s sacred ground beating heart 1989. Her work which includes drawing, printmaking, painting and sculpture all reference an Indigenous connection to land and history. Recently Watson won The Queensland Indigenous Artist Public Art Commission 2016 for her bronze sculpture tow row (illustrated), which is permanently installed at the entrance to the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA).

Born at Mundubbera, west of Maryborough, in south-east Queensland, the spirit and substance of her work is sourced in the homeland of her grandmother and great grandmother, a descendant of the Waanyi people of north-west Queensland.

Watson’s canvases are not paintings in the classical traditions of European art, they remain unstretched when exhibited, usually pinned to the wall as is sacred ground beating heart.

sacred ground beating heart

Through paint and pigment, Judy Watson offers evidence of intimate encounters with the heat, air, 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 in 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.

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 / © Judy Watson/Licensed by Viscopy, 2013

tow row

In tow row 2016, Judy Watson has responded to our GOMA site close to the Brisbane River. Referencing woven nets used by Aboriginal people of the area she acknowledges the traditional owners of the site and their everyday fishing activities on the river and local saltwater waterways. Watch our documentary as Watson discusses her inspiration for the bronze sculpture.

Judy Watson, Waanyi people, Australia b.1959 / tow row 2016 / Bronze / Commissioned 2016 to mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art. This project has been realised with generous support from the Queensland Government, the Neilson Foundation and Cathryn Mittelheuser, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

International Women’s Day Artist talk