MOFFATT, Tracey (Australian, b. 1960)
Beauties (in cream)
(1994). From the series Beauties (1994-1997). Black and white photograph, colour tinted in lab during printing process print, 100 x 71cm; printed in an edition of 20 numbered copies, this copy Artist’s Proof 1/1.
One of Tracey Moffatt’s most captivating works, exploring themes of indigenous identity and place. It is also a deeply personal work, since it is a portrait of her own Uncle Jack. In Moffatt’s own words, ‘This image is raceless … in a way, it might be about me’.
The Beauties series was printed in three colour variations – Wine, Mulberry and Cream (presented here). Beauties (in wine) was chosen as the cover image of Judy Annear’s catalogue for the landmark exhibition The photograph and Australia (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015), a fact which acknowledges its undeniable dramatic power and confirms upon it an almost iconic status; the catalogue (pp. 120-21) also illustrates the three different colour variants in the Beauties series – cream, mulberry, and wine. The wine colour variant featured in the retrospective exhibition of Moffatt’s work at the 57th Venice Biennale, 2017, and is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue with the following contextual note: ‘Beauties (1994-1997), a portrait of an unknown Aboriginal stockman found by Moffatt and retouched in three bold Pop Art colours, highlighting the history of exploitation and stolen wages for Aboriginal stockmen’ (Tracey Moffatt : my horizon, edited by Natalie King, Australia Council for the Arts, 2017, p. 125).
First exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, as part of the exhibition Localities of Desire, the exhibition explored the topic of the blurring between regional and global identity. ‘Moffatt’s work grounds the big issues in the immediately familiar and rich role of the exotic male type in our culture as well as the experience of the individual. His story, and whether it is tragic or comic, is not known, unlike that of the native beauty in Something More‘ (Gael Newton in Fever Pitch, p. 21).
The Beauties series is held in the collection of the Queensland Art Gallery; otherwise, we can locate no examples of any of the colour variants in Australian public collections. The statement in the monograph My horizon that the identity of the subject is “unknown” is possibly a deliberate obfuscation, adding a dimension of abstraction that serves to disarm the viewer’s preconceptions of identity by creating a distance between the image and the artist herself: the Queensland Art Gallery reveals the true identity of the sitter in its catalogue record of this work:
‘The photographic series ‘Beauties’ was created in the 1990s. For these works, Moffatt cast a 1950s studio portrait of her uncle in three different colours. This Warholian handling of the photograph suggests a ‘type’ that is undermined by Moffatt’s introduction of an Indigenous Australian man into the Hollywood image of the young postwar cowboy.’ – https://collection-online-beta.qagoma.qld.gov.au/objects/10931/
The Queensland Art Gallery further explains the context of the image:
‘Tracey Moffatt’s Beauties (in mulberry) 1997 references the rodeo scene that grew out of Aboriginal indentured labour in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Moffatt embraces a time in history that could be viewed through a lens of sadness or defeat. Instead the artist presents an image of her uncle dressed as a Hollywood movie-star style cowboy through a lens of beauty.
Under the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897 (QLD), Aboriginal people of all ages were taken from their homes and sent to work on cattle and sheep properties across Australia. Their wages were paid to the government, and a portion was paid in rations back to Indigenous families. The indentured workers took fierce pride in their cowboy skills and many became famous rodeo riders. – https://learning.qagoma.qld.gov.au/artworks/beauties-in-wine-2/
Tracey Moffatt presents her own perspective of this image of her Uncle Jack, a stockman, in relation to her own identity : ‘This image is raceless …someone said he could be a Mexican cowboy, he could be an Italian cane-cutter. In a way, it might be about me. I get asked if I am Indian or Puerto Rican. I can move across cultures. The most insulting thing that I ever hear, and it always comes from Australians, is ‘Oh, you don’t look Aboriginal’, reassuring me, like, ‘Don’t worry about it’. I actually think I do. I think I look like my mother’. – Lenny Ann Low, Zooming in on an artful tease, Sydney Morning Herald, December 17, 2003
‘Tracey Moffatt is probably Australia’s most successful artist ever, both nationally and internationally. She is certainly one of the few Australian artists to have established a global market for her work. A filmmaker as well as photographer, Moffatt has held around 100 solo exhibitions of her work in Europe, the United States and Australia. Her films, including Nightcries – A Rural Tragedy, 1989, and Bedevil, 1993, have been screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the Dia Centre for the Arts in New York and the National Centre for Photography in Paris.
Over the last 25 years Moffatt has produced a cohesive body of work, from her celebrated 1989 series Something More to the more recent Fourth, 2001. Each series devolves upon an unwritten narrative – a story is implied, but never stated. Part of the artist’s project is to dismantle the conventions of storytelling, paradoxically by using artifice alone to tell her tales. At the same time, the power of her work derives from the persuasions of myth. Moffatt’s subjects touch on deep-seated, implacable issues, on the wounds that never heal …
Like the work of Destiny Deacon, Moffatt’s art is sharpened with pain and humour. In works such as Something More and, most explicitly, Laudanum, 1998, she engages the rhetorical confusions of racism through the sado-masochistic dynamic of the colonised subject. Indeed, her avowed ambivalence about being categorised as an Indigenous artist is at odds with her commitment to the fostering of Aboriginal culture, and to the central place of Indigeneity in her work. This seeming contradiction – an apparent moral inconsistency – is resolved in her dedication to the accoutrements of success: as much as Moffatt’s work is about pain, it is also about glamour. Moffatt’s vision is essentially theatrical, and one might argue that being an art-star – with all its attendant posturing – is as much a part of her practice as the art itself.’ (Hannah Fink in Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2014).
Mori Gallery, Sydney
Peter Fay, Sydney, acquired from the above in 1994
Pat Corrigan Collection, Sydney
On long-term loan to the University of Technology, Sydney, July 2004 – July 2006; June 2013 – November 2020.
Localities of Desire: Contemporary Art in an International World, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 21 October – 11 December 1994 (another example)
The Enduring Glance: 20th Century Australian Photography from the Corrigan Collection, Bendigo Regional Art Gallery, Victoria, 22 June – 28 July 2002, and Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Queensland, 2002 (this example, illustrated on the cover)
First 20 Years, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 7 February – 9 March 2002 (another example)
Tracey Moffatt, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 17 December 2003 – 29 February 2004 (another example)
Photography is Dead! Long live Photography!, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 23 July – 9 November 1996 (another example)
Tracey Moffatt, Lismore Regional Gallery, New South Wales, 13 March – 25 April 2009 (this example, label attached verso).
BUTLER, R., and THOMAS, M., ‘Tracey Moffatt From Something Singular… To Something More’, Eyeline, vol. 45, Autumn – Winter 2001
ANNEAR, J., The Photograph and Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2015, pp. 112, 120-121 (illustrated p. 296, and illustrated cover, another example).
NEWTON, Gael and MOFFATT, Tracey. Tracey Moffatt. Fever Pitch. Sydney : Piper Press, 1995, pp. 20-21
KING, Natalie (editor). Tracey Moffatt : my horizon. Sydney : Australia Council for the Arts ; Melbourne, Victoria : Thames & Hudson Australia, 2017, p. 125 (illustrated, another example)
Collections (other examples of the Cream variant):
Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongawera (O.043081, acquired 2015)
Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art (2008.223.001, acquired 2008)