FUTURES presents The British Museum by Matthew Harris, his second solo exhibition with the gallery, for which he has created a suite of six monochromatic ochre paintings on hessian. In continuation of his work Consigned to oblivion at ACCA, Harris interprets the collecting practices of the world’s first institution of its type, zeroing in on their hoarding and treatment of Aboriginal objects.
Approximately 39,000 Aboriginal objects are held in institutions across the United Kingdom and Ireland. Ranging from the sacred to the mundane, these objects are evidence of the rich social, spiritual and material cultures spanning at least 65,000 years of the longest continuous First Peoples on Earth. On occasion, they were gifts or bartered, but more frequently stolen by early colonisers. These paintings abstractly depict only the small fraction of catalogued and photographed objects accessible online while buried in storage at The British Museum, which are ordered alphabetically according to their occasionally incorrect English classifications.
Ghostly shapes nestle in taxonomical alignment and flit between abstract forms and identifiable objects, just as works of art, tools and jewellery are muted in the museum context. Harris has often employed art-historical imagery and styles to serve his own ends, and here repetition and seriality mirror the museum’s relentless accumulation of objects, which largely go unseen. White ochre – most often used in ceremony and sorry business – is both materially impactful and rich with cultural weight.
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