Work created by ‘stolen generations’ of Aboriginal children to go on display in Glasgow
Hundreds of artworks created at the Western Australian settlement of Carrolup were sold in the UK in the 1950s after being discovered during a visit to its school by an English philanthropist, Florence Rutter.
After meeting the Noongar children – who had been separated from their parents under the official government policy of the time – and art teachers, Noel and Lily White, she organised exhibitions across Australia and New Zealand.
Securing permission to sell their drawings in Europe, she went on to stage exhibitions in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool in the 1950s, with the proceeds being sent back to the school.
However there have been growing efforts to return the drawings to Australia since 2013, when a large collection of them was repatriated from New York.
Art collector Herbert Mayer had bought more than 120 drawings which were left in Florence Rutter’s collection in 1956 and donated them to his alma mater, Colgate University, a decade later.
However they sat in storage for almost half a century until they were recognised by a visiting Australian professor, Howard Morphy, in 2004.
The works of art created by the Carrolup children are now seen as hugely influential in how they depicted the bush and bush life and highly significant in understanding the traumas experienced by Aboriginal people under a policy now known as the “Stolen Generations.”
The forthcoming exhibition at Glasgow University’s memorial chapel, which will run from 5 October to 11 November, will be the first time since any of the works of art have gone on display in Scotland for more than 70 years.
It has been organised by the John Curtin Gallery, at the Curtin University, in Perth, Western Australia, which is the custodian of the Carrolup collection discovered in New York. Gallery director Chris Malcolm said: “We are encouraging people across Scotland to help our global search for these culturally significant drawings by checking their attics, cupboards and households for any similar artworks.
“The key clues that people need to be looking out for include the use of chalk or pastel on paper and many depict the Australian landscape and wildlife, including kangaroos.
"We would urge everyone to see for themselves at the new exhibition in Glasgow, which tells this incredible story.”
Michael Broun, curator of Australian First Nations Art at the John Curtin Gallery, said: “As the daughter of a stolen child, the children’s artworks and their stories resonate with me. I understand the pain on the children’s faces and hear their voices in their letters, but the drawings belie this pain and speak to our humanity.
The child artists overcame adversity through art - they are the heroes of the exhibition.”
Ezzard Flowers, Goreng Elder of the Noongar Nation: “We’ve experienced the loss of kidnapped children and broken families as part of empire building.
"We want to share our stories and the truth of our colonial past with communities in the United Kingdom.”