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"welcome to Australia" 2004

Wall text

Wall text

Rosemary Laing 

Born 1959, Yuggera and Turrbal Country/Brisbane, QLD.

Died 2024, Gadigal Country/Sydney, NSW.

Pronouns: she/her.

 

"welcome to Australia" 2004

 

c-type photograph, edition 5/7

from the series ‘to walk on a sea of salt’

Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2007. 

 

In Rosemary Laing’s welcome to Australia, the viewer is confronted with a panoramic image of the deserted Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre in South Australia. During its operation from 1999 to 2003, the Centre incarcerated hundreds of asylum seekers, subjecting detainees to extensive periods of mandatory detention in grossly inhumane conditions. The site was shut down by the Australian Government in 2003, in the wake of rioting by inmates, which drew international attention to the Centre’s breaches of human rights laws. The facility and its surrounds have been abandoned ever since. Through this photograph and its provocative title, the artist posits the Centre and the discrimination, censorship, and violations it symbolises as intrinsic to ideas of Australian nationhood.

 

The image apprehends the high security fence from an outer corner, leaving its oppressive wings to reach across the horizon, obscuring the landscape. The fence occupies the centre of the photograph, a jarring presence against the backdrop of a gentle, pink sky. Through this composition, Laing makes a clear distinction between those behind the fence and those outside the fence’s barrier. These two worlds occupy the same space, sharing the same air and ground; yet, one is behind a marginalising threshold, and the other is free to roam. Viewers become idle voyeurs of bureaucratic cruelty, reinforcing the dry sarcasm of the photograph’s title.

This work is part of Laing’s series ‘to walk on a sea of salt’, which consists of six large photographs of the Woomera Centre and iconic Australian landscapes, some referencing specific historical paintings. The series interrogates these traditions of colonial landscape painting in Australia, whereby settler artists attempted to legitimise ownership of the land through the picture-making process. Laing connects this imagery to contemporary politics, and ties both to the settler-Australian construction of nationhood and its claims to legitimacy via processes of othering and exclusion, which can be seen in the country’s broader political attitudes towards refugees and immigrants. Through welcome to Australia, Laing evokes these colonial mythologies that dwell in the grotesque sublimity of the abandoned detention centre as a symbol of the nation.
 

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