‘Skullcap’ honours Aboriginal servicemen


Shirley Macnamara lives outside Mt Isa in central Queensland where she runs a thriving cattle property with her son, and is also immersed in her family’s cultural and political research.

In 2013 Macnamara began to make skullcaps, reminiscent of a customary funerary practice for some Aboriginal women where their heads were plastered with white clay or burnt gypsum to form a cap, covering their hair completely. The wearing of this cap could extend for some time after a death, with successive coatings making it heavy and uncomfortable for the widow or female relative of the deceased.

In Skullcap 2013, Macnamara doesn’t attempt to imitate the caps found in museum collections and illustrations, rather, she intends to honour Aboriginal men who represented Australia in two world wars, never to return to their loved ones. She hopes to ensure that Aboriginal soldiers are no longer forgotten. Skullcap is made from rich, red ochre and is covered with emu feathers, which allude to those used to decorate Australian soldiers’ uniform hats.

RELATED: Shirley Macnamara

RELATED: ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in the First World War quickly became known as ANZACs, and the pride they took in that name endures to this day. ANZAC Day, 25 April, marks the anniversary of the first campaign that led to major casualties and commemorates all the conflicts that followed.

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Shirley Macnamara, Indjalandji/Alyawarr, Australia b.1949  / Skullcap 2013 / Spinifex (Triodia pungens), red ochre, emu feathers, spinifex resin and synthetic polymer fixative / 14 x 21cm (diam.) / Purchased 2014 with funds from Gina Fairfax through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art  / © Shirley Macnamara

Light Horse slouch hat with emu plume, First World War / Accession Number: RELAWM17393B / Courtesy: Australian War Memorial, Canberra

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Feature image detail: Shirley Macnamara Skullcap 2013

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon 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 Indigenous people 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.

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