Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Films by Tracy Moffatt: Reclaiming First Australians' Rights, Celebrating Women's Rites

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Films by Tracy Moffatt: Reclaiming First Australians' Rights, Celebrating Women's Rites

Article excerpt

Although Tracey Moffatt's name is not likely be found on the marquee of your local multiplex, the Australian Aboriginal photographer, video artist, and filmmaker is, in the contemporary art world, "one of the most popular artists of the moment" (Versloot 1). Seen today as "Australia's hottest artist internationally," Tracey Moffatt first received wide recognition in 1989. During that year, the Australian Centre for Photography exhibited her photographic series Something More in a one-person show that toured galleries across Australia. That same year, her experimental narrative film Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy was selected for official competition at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. The film received a Golden Palm nomination for Best Short Film. Since 1989, art galleries throughout the world have been a primary exhibition venue for Moffatt's films and videos. Representative of recent exhibitions of her work, the New Works by Tracey Moffatt exhibition at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center from 5 August to 22 October 2000 featured two of her films and two videos that she co-directed along with her 1998 series of hand-tinted photogravures titled Laudanum, the Invocations series of silkscreens she created in 2000, and a documentary that provides an overview of Moffatt's career.1

Moffatt's imaginative work as a director of photonarratives in a range of art forms has prompted film scholars and art historians to discuss the boundary-crossing power of Moffatt's authorial vision. Feminist film scholar Patricia Mellencamp has argued that filmmakers such as Tracey Moffatt "use the affective quality of photographyof composition and the close-up-to make intellectual arguments" ("Empirical Avant-Garde" 179). Writing about an exhibition of Moffatt's work last year at the Roslyn Oxley Gallery in Sydney, an Artspace critic explained that the strength of her work results from the fact that "with Moffatt, there's always a conversation between photography and cinematography" ("2000 Shows" 1). That interaction means, in part, that Moffatt is a directorial photographer who sets "up her shots like a filmmaker: storyboarding them, constructing sets, casting and directing characters" (1).

The interaction also means that in Moffatt's films, the mise-en-scene elements, sound-image combinations, and sequence-to-sequence relationships are so dense with meaning that they invite, require, and reward the kind of contemplation often reserved for one's leisurely or studied encounters with art gallery exhibitions. In the discussion that follows, I take time to look more closely at three films by Moffatt, Nice Coloured Girls (1987), Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989), and Bedevil (1993). Taking into account the films' production and reception contexts, I will discuss selected elements of the films as instances in which Moffatt gives vivid expression to First Australians' vital place in contemporary Australian culture, and to aesthetic strategies often found in women's art.

Reclaiming First Aust-Wians' Rights

These three films by Moffatt provide the basis for a coherent and potentially illuminating study in part because they represent important developmental moments in her career. They also represent instances in which Tracey Moffatt and other artists have contributed to Aboriginal politics and Australian film culture in ways that have reshaped the country's cultural identity and national cinema.2 Moreover, the three films provide glimpses of a movement within her country to create a more egalitarian society that has, for more than a century, depended on women's participation in the public sphere.3

Moffatt's film Nice Coloured Girls has overlapping significance because she produced this first film during the time she was involved in the production of a film commissioned by the Australian Bicentennial Authority to celebrate "the diversity of women's contributions to Australian life over the past two hundred years" (French 4). …

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