Yhonnie Scarce: Missile Park -
Exhibition Overview

Words by Dylan Marriott, Edited by Sueann Chen


Born in Woomera, South Australia, Yhonnie Scarce is a Kokatha and Nukunu woman whose work investigates the on-going effects of colonisation upon First Nations people of Australia. Scarce utilises various mediums to weave her experience of cultural identity and family history into installation and intricate glass work. Missile Park is a co-commissioned exhibition by the Australian Center for Contemporary Art and the Brisbane Institute of Art, a semi retrospective of Scarce’s oeuvre spanning across the last 15 years of her practice. The exhibition engages with her ancestral and personal histories as an Indigenous woman in relation to Country, as well as the mistreatment of First Nations people and their Land.


Missile Park is informed and situated in Scarce’s investigation into the ramifications of the nuclear testing done by the British army in the 1950’s-1960’s, displacing Maralinga Tjarutja, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, Antakirinja Matu-Yankunytjatjara, Arabana, Gawler Ranges, and Kokatha people away from their ancestral homelands, spanning across over 127,000 square kilometres. Scarce’s practice illuminates the violent displacement and relocation of First Nations people, as a result of racial and violent colonisation. The installation features 3 weathered tin sheds, each housing 20 glass bush plums. Scarce’s utilisation of glass within her work continues a lineage of Indigenous material practice within contemporary means and materials. By repurposing materials from her birthplace to form her glass works, Scarce pays homage to the ritual traditions of Indigenous people which has transpired through place, stories and knowledge for over 50,000 years.

Upon entering the exhibition, you are greeted by one of Scarce’s earliest works “The day we went away” – a found suitcase and a collection of bush bananas. In this work, Scarce examines the displacement, relocation and regulation of Indigenous people into colonial missions and foster homes. This work establishes the context of Missile Park, and illuminates the central concerns to Scarce’s practice early on in the exhibition. As you navigate through the first room of the exhibition, archival colonial photographs of family members are displayed alongside small gatherings of glass bush tucker; a ghostly offering to her beloved family members. The offering is symbolic of Scarce’s practice, seeking to uncover her ancestral histories, and to not be lost among the masses of colonial ethnographic archives of her ancestors. This work emphasises the embodied memories of her ancestors, and their enduring connections to history; obfuscated by the violent erasure of colonisation.

Further works in the room such as Florey and Fanny, Blood on the Wattle, and Working Class Man continue the dialogue in reference to the forced relocation of Indigenous people into labour and servitude. Moving deeper into the exhibition, we approach Weak in Colour but Strong in Blood – A clinical installation referencing the mistreatment of Aboriginal people under the guise of medical and scientific research. The use of staining pigment on the glass bush plums, bananas and yams within this piece is reminiscent of human organs, with the surrounding wall lined by fruits tenderly frozen in time as they are pierced and mutilated by various medical instruments – some are presented intact, whilst others have shattered. Once again, Scarce’s careful use of blown glass is a ghostly depiction of the lives lost, and the invasion of Indigenous bodies and lands, serving as a memorial ground for her ancestors.

Now, arriving at Scarce’s final work, the title piece “Missile Park”. Three weathered tin sheds, each home to 20 bush plums, is symbolic to the lives lost, people displaced, and a cultural history forever damaged by colonial violence. The latter of the three sheds is accessible via a doorway; inviting the viewers to enclose themselves within the dark box. As the door is sealed, light slowly seeps through holes piercing the aluminium walls, and these bullet sized openings become stars among the black expanse of space within the shed. As the eyes adjust, 20 gleaming orbs gaze innocently back at the viewer, these glinting figures possess the childlike quality of lost spirits wandering the 127,000km expanse of the Woomera Prohibited Area, forever searching for their families amongst the rubble left behind by the violence of colonial assault.

Missile Park is on show at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne from 27 Mar–14 Jun 2021, and then at the Brisbane Institute of Modern Art from 17 July – 18 September 2021.


Images Courtesy of Andrew Curtis


Yhonnie Scarce Artist Bio

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