Imagining and Imaging - Laurel McKenzie - Umbrella Studio - Townsville

by Laurel McKenzie

Devata iii  archival pigment print

Devata iii archival pigment print

Imagining and Imaging is an Access Space Exhibition at Umbrella Studio, Townsville, 28 Sept to 4 Nov 2012.

It re-images women from the distant and recent past and pays tribute to second wave feminist projects.

I have been investigating women who have been largely erased from history, or whose role in history has been distorted. Many of these women were rediscovered by feminist scholars of the 1960s/70s, but important female figures have had to be repeatedly rescued from obscurity or misrepresentation by each new generation.

This group of works juxtaposes carved stone devatas from the walls of ancient Khmer temples with the ubiquitous ‘celebrities’ who are created and maintained (for a time) by contemporary popular media.

Red-carpet celebrities are presented in full frontal pose, and like the devatas, meet our gaze. But they are composed of a mosaic of miniature replicas of themselves, all groomed and posed for the camera for our (visual) consumption.

The 12th/13th century devatas are, by contrast, brought into focus as representations of real individuals who once held power and status in their communities.

The devatas have long been regarded by archeologists as general-purpose, Hindu and Buddhist, ‘chorus lines’ of anonymous minor deities; as decorative features on structures intended primarily for housing free-standing male statues of the Buddha or of Shiva/Vishnu.

Recent investigation by Cambodian researcher, Phalika Khan, suggests that many of the devatas are representations of real, historical women. Two of these women, Indradevi and Jayarajadevi, were queens - sisters and successive wives of Jayavarman vii (ruled 1181 – 1215 AD) who built the Bayon and other important Khmer structures.

My works recognize the particularity of these enigmatic women, lifting them out of the ‘chorus line’ and from obscurity.

The contemporary celebrities on the other hand are depicted as part of a general cacophony of images that jostle for attention; they are moved in the other direction - from the particular to the general. They are portrayed as the sum of small chunks of information, their individuality subsumed.

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