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Under Stone, Under Wave

This painting project was done in conjunction with the World of Co Residency Program in November of 2022.

Broome (Rubibi) is a small town in northern Western Australia. Home to the Yawuru people, it’s known today for it’s gorgeous beaches and for being where the desert meets the sea. It was originally founded in the late 1880s as a pearling port, however. Pearl diving was a dangerous industry in this time period, many of the divers dying of the bends or drowning. Cyclones in 1887 and 1935 resulted in the deaths of approximately 140 men. Many of the divers were immigrants and the descendants of immigrants from the Wakayama prefecture in Japan, and so Broome has a large cemetery where a sizable portion is dedicated to the local Japanese population. The unique nature of the cemetery is evident at first glance; Australian landscape meeting Japanese culture, beach rocks pulled from the nearby ocean and pearl shells embedded in the graves.

Cemeteries have always been places of interest to me. I have always enjoyed history, and the human history and sense of heritage evident in museums fascinates me. Unlike in large museums or at grand monuments, cemeteries usually show a very personal, human side of history. The people buried in them usually weren’t mentioned in history books or classes, but they are a line we can trace back through centuries to identify with the past. Cemeteries also have a unique atmosphere- or rather, they have many atmospheres depending on the time of day, the reason for your visit, and the mood of the visitor. They are designed to be places of remembrance and peace, but they’re frequently associated with fear and tension. I have a history of trying to explore those different atmospheres in painting.

For this project, I focused on the Japanese Cemetery in Broome. My reasoning was mostly that it’s visually unique from the European focused cemeteries I’ve painted before and because I have personal connections to Broome. Since this was an international residency program and I was the only Australian in my group, it also felt significant to share a piece of my home with my foreign colleagues. The photographs I worked from were ones I took myself while visiting and the soundscape was made from recordings I took myself at Cable Beach and the cemetery. The sounds are meant to be listened to while looking at the painting, ideally creating an immersive experience with a vaguely surreal and dreamy atmosphere. The colours in the painting were chosen to reflect the warmth of Broome- both metaphorical and literal, since the strongest sensory sensation visitors feel is probably the heat. I also wanted to create a sense of life and movement, like the waves.

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