“Reversing the Missionary Position”
Catherine van Wilgenburg’s latest and ongoing series of paintings “Reversing the Missionary Position”.
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“Reversing the Missionary Position” Oil wax on canvas 2m x 2m
Reversing the Missionary Position
The artwork from Catherine van Wllgenburg takes the viewer on a journey into the timeless and the timely. She presents a confronting yet strongly reflective depiction of contact and conflict between the original owners of this land and the colonists intent on usurping both land and people. In her Reversing the Missionary Position series, Van Wilgenburg leads us to an encounter with a people who belonged and still belong to the land. Their images emerge from and are embedded in the earth, in place, while the settlers and soldiers, enshrined in their Britishness, seem out of place, even dislocated in this space of wondrous wattle and banksia.
The artworks traverse the white history of treaties, land ownership and Christian doctrine to highlight the shocking reality of worldview dissonance in the years following the European ‘Enlightenment’. With domination of settlement came domination of the spirits of the land and sea but these significant inspirations were not recognised by the newcomers. While some learned to love the land too, the authorities appropriated the land’s special creatures on the coat of arms. Van Wilgenburg’s strength is her ability to represent this active enclosement of wild places, species and peoples with a clear focus.
Catherine van Wilgenburg is a story teller. She connects us to the story of this place, to the issues which can swirl from memory and asks us to re-member our past and to acknowledge the wounding of both Aboriginal peoples and the land. The sadness which surrounds this story is the on-going legacy of the missionary position. Reversing the missionary position makes the non-Aboriginal viewer look deeply into their own history and our own actions to work towards change and working ‘both ways’.
This perspective is apparent too in her lovely series of Iramoo, an island of western grasslands on the edge of suburbia. The land is blocked off from the surrounding houses. On one side of the fence is the wild, uncontrolled and natural place; on the other, is sense of surveillance and control reminiscent of the wild and tamed land on either side of the famed dingo and rabbit proof fences that snake their way across the continent dividing us from them.
The sense of the wild still lingers in van Wilgenburg’s art. It reminds us to consider that we too are wild, if only we (non-Indigenous residents) scratch the surface and ponder the depths of our inherent connection to the earth.
Lecturer, Studies in Religion
The University of Queensland,
St Lucia, 4067, Qld