The ambivalent paintings of Judy Watson : an aboriginal feminist aesthetic

Carol ARCHER, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong


This paper takes as its starting point Vivien Johnson's claim that the paintings of Judy Watson (1959-) privilege emotion and resist a 'cognitive bias' common to a wide range of discourses on Aboriginal painting, tradition-based and otherwise. This claim will be tested through a close reading of four works - the guardians (1986-1988), internal landscape (1994), heartland (1991) and shoal (1998) - which, it will be argued, frame embodied identity and spirituality in Aboriginal and feminine-specific terms. Johnson identifies in Watson's paintings a feminist strategy of privileging emotion to evoke a 'felt, rather than thought, connectedness' to Aboriginal countiy and artistic tradition. While Johnson posits an implicit opposition between emotion and thought, contrasting Watson's paintings with more overtly political works by Aboriginal artists who have adopted the 'approved 'quotational' mode of Post-modernism,' this essay will argue that the political aesthetic of the four works in question is located in their capacity to generate ambivalent moods and modes of thought.