Mad through the darkness: Australian artists and the Great War, co-curated by UNSW’s Dr Andrew Yip, brings together works by 12 artists from the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) collection to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli.
“When we think about war and visual culture people often think immediately of propaganda, but in reality what we see in these images is a sense of pathos at the immense human tragedy,” said Dr Yip who curated the exhibition with Natalie Wilson, Curator Australian and Pacific Art at AGNSW.
Dr Yip is a Research Fellow at UNSW’s Laboratory for Innovation in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (iGLAM) in the National Institute of Experimental Arts. His position is the result of an innovative partnership with the AGNSW aimed at developing new research projects that will benefit the museum and galleries sector.
Mad through the darkness includes works by official Australian war artists including Will Dyson, George Lambert, Arthur Streeton, Fred Leist and Harold Septimus Power, who were assigned the task of creating a visual record of Australia’s armed forces in action.
Many of the works are being exhibited for the first time in decades with an important collection of prints by Dyson having undergone conservation treatment specifically for the show.
For the first time in a century, a selection of works by Evelyn Chapman, the first female Australian artist to visit Europe’s WWI battlefields will be on display. The works were recently bequested to the Gallery by Chapman’s daughter.
The exhibition also includes Roy de Maistre’s paintings, some of the first abstracts in Australia, inspired by the artist's experience as a medical orderly in WWI. De Maistre experimented with colour and music therapies for shell-shocked soldiers, which included painting a Sydney hospital ward to soothe recovering soldiers when they returned from the war.
The Gallery has also developed an interactive online archive Hidden War which tells the personal stories of three Australian war artists; photographer Cecil Bostock, painter and anti-war campaigner Weaver Hawkins and Dora Ohlfsen.
Dr Yip said the centenary of the Anzac landing gives Australians the opportunity to reflect on the cultural narratives in their history and to examine the role of Australian artists in creating them.
“The works in this exhibition show how artists valorised sacrifice, created images designed to record history, and also how they dealt with social trauma,” Dr Yip said.