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Telling the Story of Australian Art in new and innovative ways

Swedish-born artist Oscar Friström’s Duramboi 1893 depicts James Davis, a young convict sent from Scotland to Australia. Davis escaped from a Moreton Bay penal colony in 1829 and lived with several Indigenous groups in the area, particularly on Fraser Island (where he was known as Duramboi), until he was found in 1842. During this time, Davis learned many languages and customs, and was treated as an honoured guest. He later worked as a guide for settlers and occasionally as a court interpreter.

Oscar Friström, Sweden/Australia 1856-1918 / Duramboi 1893 / Oil on canvas / Gift of the artist 1895 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Sidney Nolan, on the other hand, imagined and mythologised the experience of Scottish woman Eliza Anne Fraser, who was shipwrecked off the coast of Queensland in 1836. Accounts of Mrs Fraser’s experience, steeped in colonial assumptions and elevated to the status of legend through multiple and contradictory tellings, effectively demonised the island’s inhabitants, and the stories have since been contested. Nolan’s evocation of an outsider in an unfamiliar landscape is closely tied to his own emotional state at the time (he visited Fraser Island in 1947 at the end of a dramatic breakup with Sunday Reed).

Related: Sidney Nolan

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Sidney Nolan, Australia/England 1917-1992 / Mrs Fraser 1966 / Water-based fabric dye on paper / Purchased 2003. The Queensland Government’s special Centenary Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Courtesy of the Artist’s Estate /www.bridgeman.co.uk
Fiona Foley, Australia b.1964 / Badtjala woman 1994
Fiona Foley, Australia b.1964 / Badtjala woman 1994 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Three sheets / Purchased 2001. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery /  © The artist

The story of Mrs Fraser gave rise to the naming of the island, which is called K’gari by the Indigenous people of that land. Here, Nolan’s works appear alongside the black-and-white photographs of Fiona Foley’s Badtjala woman 1994 — portraits based on ethnographic photographs of an unnamed ancestor held in museum collections. Foley counters the tale of Eliza Fraser: her self-representation as part of this lineage serves to restore a sense of her people’s dignity, power and agency.

Arthur Boyd, Australia 1920-99 / Sleeping bride 1957-58 / Oil and tempera on composition board / Gift of Paul Taylor in memory of his parents Eric and Marion Taylor through the QAGOMA Foundation 2016. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Arthur Boyd’s work reproduced with the permission of Bundanon Trust

Transformative works also feature in the display, including Arthur Boyd’s Sleeping bride 1957–58 — an acquisition from Boyd’s important allegorical series titled ‘Love, marriage and death of a half-caste’, otherwise known as ‘the Brides’ series. Resulting from the artist’s travels to central Australia in 1953, it is considered one of the most significant achievements in Australian modernism, akin to Sidney Nolan’s ‘Ned Kelly’ paintings from the 1940s.

Dr Kyla McFarlane, Australian Art, QAGOMA

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Feature image detail: Fiona Foley Badtjala woman 1994