AustLit logo
Tracey Moffatt
By Annabelle Hazell
(Status : Public)
Coordinated by Tracey Moffatt
  • Tracey Moffatt

    EDITORS: this Header component is linked to in the Explore section of the following AGENT record(s): Tracey Moffatt -
  • Artist

    Artist: Tracey Moffatt

    Birth date, place : 12th of November 1960, in Brisbane Queensland.

    This artist's profile was developed by Annabelle Hazell during 2014 at The University of Queensland as a part of the Visual Arts Curating and Writing course, convened by Dr Allison Holland.

  • Biography

    Tracey Moffatt is an Australian Aboriginal photographer, filmmaker and performance artist, who grew up in Brisbane during the 1960s. Her mother was an Aboriginal woman who according to Moffatt “wasn’t one for looking after kids, for raising her own kids at all” . As a result, Moffatt along with three of her siblings were adopted by an Irish-Australian woman who already had five children. She has described both her mothers as strong role models whose contrasting heritage significantly contributed to her awareness of both aboriginal and white culture . Australian art critic Sebastian Smee maintains that Moffatt’s roots play a large role in the development of her work . From a young age she had a fervent impulse fuelled by daydreams and books sourced from the middle class families that she babysat, to create stories, to make them come to life, often with the aid of her very large family. Moffatt would dress her siblings in costume and persuade them to participate in her theatrical plays while she captured them with photographic images . Consequently, Moffatt’s images always move, most obviously through film, but more regularly through her photographic sequences that capture landscape, stories and people. The theatrical images that seem to move through time illuminate themes of gender, childhood, race and history .

    Moffatt’s first year out of school was spent backpacking throughout Europe. She returned to Australia in 1980 to study Visual Communications at the Queensland College of Art, graduating two years later in 1982 . During her early career she made commercial short films and documentaries, and while Moffatt states that she had always wanted to create her own art, she felt this period of her career was a good experience “I have no regrets because I was learning my craft” . Furthermore, her early years reveal her continued interest in addressing social issues through the implementation of humor, irony and at times parody. It highlights her determination and curiosity in unsettling dominant views of the everyday world by offering an alternative perspective of the ordinary, making it extraordinary. This is evident in her 1985 work The Movie Star: David Gulpill on Bondi Beach, where she places a prominent Aboriginal actor in a typical “aussie pose”. Through this ironic clashing of confrontational stereotypes Moffatt began to receive significant national recognition for her visual art . Her 1987 short film Nice Coloured Girls disturbs traditional suppositions by challenging the dominant understandings of relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

    Moffatt maintains that she began to take her career seriously when she decided to study the works of other artists and filmmakers . As a result her influences are eclectic and represent a rich appreciation for the worlds of film and art. Summerhayes states that her influences range from children’s Golden Little Books, Disney to filmmakers “Nicolas Roeg, Martin Scorsese, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Masaki Kobayashi” . Her artistic influences include Annie Brigman, Georgia O’Keeffe, Albert Namatijira, and Mark Rothko. Moffatt also lists Pauline Reage, Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Carson McCullers as inspirational writers . This small list highlights how her attraction to the world is driven by a fascination with how form can be used to convey and alter the stories. “I’m hungry to explore different things and therefore photographic processes. From grainy black and white images which I rework to original compositions inspired by classical painting, pop culture, a favourite novelist or from my own life” . Tracey Moffatt’s first major solo exhibition Something More (1989) a photo series, elevated her to the international stage. First exhibited in the Australian Centre for Photography it then travelled within Australia to regional galleries. It is a theatrical statement, which narrates the story of a Aboriginal woman who longs for “Something more”. The fragmented narrative positions this young woman stuck between dreams of escape, her present reality and how she combats this reality with themes of violence . The photographic series ofScarred for life (1994) deals with childhood and adolescence sufferings. The photos accompanied by a sentence which describes the narrative, capture a time that is fuelled by psychological turmoil, neglect and violence, whilst attempting to navigate social conventions and racial stereotypes within the Australian context . One of her significant associations is her collaboration with Gary Hillberg, an Australia film editor. Together they have created experimental films Lip (1999), Artist (2000), Love (2003) Doomed (2007) Revolution (2008) Mother (2009) and Other (2010). These films deny the viewer a conventional perceptual pleasure of completed piece of work; instead they question the boundary that distinguishes film and art while positioning themes of race and gender at the forefront. Moffatt is arguably Australia's most well-known Australian Contemporary Artists. She currently splits her time between Sydney, New York and North Queensland

  • Overview of Career

    The years from 1973-1988 were very much her formational years. Moffatt’s interest in the world of film and art began in her early teens, when she would capture her siblings staged in make-believe plays that she envisioned. These images became the Backyard series in 1998. Her first major work was a short film titled Nice Coloured Girls in 1987. In 1988 Moffatt produced Moodeitj Yorgas, Solid Women a twenty- two-minute film, which presents interviews with Australian Aboriginal women, pieced together with segments of women who enact brief vignettes over stories told in two Aboriginal languages. Similar to Something More in 1989 which brought Moffatt international recognition for her visual art, Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy 1989 brought her international acknowledgment as a film maker through its screening at the Cannes film festival. The primary narrative is about the relationship between an Aboriginal daughter and her dying white adoptive mother set against a highly stylized, visually rich and surreal backdrop. Its location in an Australian rural country settlement highlights the idea of being trapped by life and its obligations. While it engages with Moffatt’s personal history, it offers universal themes of despair, anger and frustration and ultimately grief.

    In 1993 Moffatt produced her first full-length feature film, Bedeviled which is divided into three distinct segments, each based on “ghost stories” of her childhood. Primarily the film addresses the traditional cultural boundaries that exist within multicultural Australian society and how self-representation disturbs traditional understandings and past perceptions of social categories. Furthermore, how sharing these ghosts’ stories unmask hidden histories . Heaven (1997) is documentary style videotape, where Moffatt took on the role of bored voyeuristic housewife who captures male surfers undressing on Sydney’s Bondi Beach. Heaven explores power dynamics and gender divides through the camera’s gaze .

    In 1998 Moffat worked with photogravures for her photodrama series Laudanum. Produced from a photographic negative, the photogravures are transferred onto a metal plate and etched in. Influenced by German expressionist film, erotic and vampire literature Laudanum is set in a claustrophobic English interior where two women, a white mistress and Asian maid, narrate a story of colonial, class repression while highlighting a degree of ambiguity as to the nature of this relationship .

    In 1998, Moffatt’s presence on the international stage was solidified with her solo exhibition Free Falling at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York (October 1997-June 1998). The exhibition included work from her GUAPA - Good looking photo series completed in 1995, Scarred for Life (1994) and Up in the Sky (1997). Up in the Sky is series of black and white photographs, which capture the Australian outback. “The images are redolent of Australia’s colonial history and the ongoing scars that bind together indigenous and non-indigenous people in Australia” .

    In 2001 Moffatt exhibited Fourth at the Roslyn Oxley Gallery, she distilled the expressions of athletes who came fourth in the final races in 2000 Sydney Olympics. “It’s sadder than coming last because when you come Fourth you have missed out on a medal. You almost made it … almost a star!”.

    Moffatt’s 2004 photodrama Adventure Series is inspired by the melodramatic, hyper-sexualized, and exaggerated figures of Manga, Anime and B grade movies.

    In Under the Sign Scorpio (2005) similar to work of Cindy Sherman, Moffatt disguises herself as forty famous women born under the sign of Scorpio. The series creates dialectical images of the “explicit body in performance”. Moffatt pushes the traditional boundaries of performance by using herself as a vehicle for the exploration of how we distinguish reality through a subjective gaze .

    In 2006, The Spazio Oberdan in Milan showcased her first retrospective exhibition Tracey Moffatt: Between Dreams and Reality. Moffatt’s wide ranging influences from high art to popular culture enables her to seamlessly use both photography and cinema as platforms to navigate themes of gender, class, race and colonialism. Her 2008 First Job series examine how these themes and play out in the dreadful jobs of teenagers and young students .

    In 2012, Moffat had her second major international retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Moffatt’s most recent exhibition Spirit landscapes (2013) explored spirituality and the supernatural through land and space. Moffatt’s standing in the international arts community is reflected through her inclusion in group exhibitions like the Sydney Biennale (1993,200 and 2008) Venice Biennale (1997), Prague Biennale (2005), Family Pictures at the Solomon R. Guggenhiem Museum in New York (2007) and the Liverpool Biennale (2008) .

  • Artist Statement

    “Every art piece I have ever made, be it film or photographs, is in some way autobiographical. Each work depicts a mood or a current obsession and my occasional appearance is something that felt completely right at the time"

    Tracey Moffatt, in Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, “Tracey Talks”, in Tracey Moffatt, catalogue for the retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tracey Moffatt, December 17 2003 – February 29 2004, Sydney; MCA 2003.

  • Represented

    Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, Australia

    Tyler Rollins, Fine Art, North America

You might be interested in...