Judy Watson

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Judy Watson
Fire and water Canberra.jpg
Sculpture Fire and Water (2007) by Judy Watson at Reconciliation Place in Canberra.
Alma mater
Known forPrint-making, painting, installation
MovementContemporary Indigenous Australian art

Judy Watson (born 1959) is an Australian Waanyi multi-media artist who works in print-making, painting, video and installation. Her work often examines Indigenous Australian histories, and she has received a number of high profile commissions for public spaces.

Early life and education[edit]

Judy Watson was born in Mundubbera, Queensland in 1959. She is a Brisbane-based Waanyi artist. She was educated at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education in Toowoomba, where she received a Diploma of Creative Arts in 1979; at the University of Tasmania where she received a bachelor's degree (1980–82); and at Monash University, where she completed a graduate diploma in 1986. At Tasmania University she learned many techniques, among them lithography, which has influenced her entire body of work.[1]


Watson trained as a print-maker, and her work in painting, video and installation often relies upon the use of layers to create a sense of different realities co-existing. As an Aboriginal Australian artist, the depiction of the land has an ongoing significance in her practice.

She won the Moët & Chandon Fellowshi] in 1995, allowing her to travel to France and later exhibit there.[2] She represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1997, along with Yvonne Koolmatrie and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.[3]

In 2005, for French architect Jean Nouvel's Musée du quai Branly, she constructed a site-specific work for the building along with a number of other key Aboriginal artists.[4] A film was made about the project, titled The French Connection.[5]

In 2008 Watson collaborated with Yhonnie Scarce to commemorate the escape of her great-great grandmother Rosie from Lawn Hill Station in north-west Queensland,[6] where the notoriously cruel Jack Watson was known for nailing up the ears of his victims, after shooting numerous Aboriginal people.[7][8] For the work, the two artists cast 40 pairs of ears of volunteers and nailed them to a wall.[6]

Her work is often highly political, however it is rarely didactic. She describes her attitude to political art as follows:

"Art as a vehicle for invention and social change can be many things, it can be soft, hard, in-your-face confrontational, or subtle and discreet. I try and choose the latter approach for much of my work, a seductive beautiful exterior with a strong message like a deadly poison dart that insinuates itself into the consciousness of the viewer without them being aware of the package until it implodes and leaks its contents."[9]

She was commissioned by the City of Sydney to create a major public work of art for their Eora Journey arts program. The sculpture, titled bara would be located at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney in 2020. The installation consists of a representation of bara, or fish hooks made for thousands of years by women from the local Eora nation.[10]


In the book on Watson's work, blood language (2009), her practice is divided into a number of themes: water, skin, poison, dust and blood, ochre, bones, driftnet.[9] The list indicates the range of natural and cultural forms that underpin her practice.

Watson's recent work can be understood as part of the archival turn in contemporary art. She examines Indigenous Australian histories. For example, a preponderance of aboriginal blood (2005) was commissioned by the State Library of Queensland to celebrate the Queensland centenary of women’s suffrage and forty years of Aboriginal suffrage. The work uses documents from the Queensland State Archives about the way Aboriginal people were precluded from voting. Before suffrage was granted in 1965, eligibility to vote was based on the percentage of Aboriginal blood, hence Watson’s title to her series. The series was recently acquired by Tate Modern in London.[citation needed]

A series of six engravings entitled the holes in the land (2015) is about the loss of Aboriginal cultural patrimony.[11] In four of the six images Aboriginal cultural objects held in the British Museum are depicted. The title underscores the damage done to the land—the shadow, depression or blot on the landscape—removal has caused.[12]


Solo/duo exhibitions[edit]

  • 2020–2021 Looking Glass: Judy Watson and Yhonnie Scarce at the TarraWarra Museum of Art in Victoria. Curated by Hetti Perkins, the exhibition featuring the work of Watson and Scarce was scheduled to be shown at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, but owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was rearranged to stay home.[6]
  • 2016 the names of places, Green Screen, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane[13]
  • 2015 the holes in the land, grahame galleries + editions, Brisbane
  • 2015 the holes in the land; heron island suite, experimental beds, Toowoomba Regional Gallery
  • 2014 sacred ground beating heart / experimental beds / heron island suite, Noosa Regional Gallery
  • 2013 experimental beds, Brenda May Gallery, Sydney[14]
  • 2012 shell, Milani Gallery, Brisbane.[15]
  • experimental beds, University of Virginia, USA and grahame galleries + editions, Brisbane.[16]
  • 2011 - 12 waterline, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne and Embassy of Australia, Washington DC, USA.
  • 2011 heron island suite, Touring Regional Galleries in Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.
  • 2010 heron island suite, grahame galleries + editions, Brisbane.[17]
  • 2009 - 12 heron island, University of Virginia, USA; grahame galleries + editions, Brisbane; and touring across Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland.
  • 2009 bad and doubtful debts, Milani Gallery, Brisbane.[18]
  • 2009 heron island, University of Queensland Art Museum; University of Queensland, Brisbane.[19]
  • 1993 Dropping into Water Slowly, Australian Girls Own Gallery, Canberra[20]
  • 1991 Inspiration – Expiration, Australian Girls Own Gallery, Canberra[20]

Major group exhibitions[edit]

  • First Asia-Pacific Triennale of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, 1993[21]
  • Antipodean Currents: Ten Contemporary Artists from Australia, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1995[22]
  • A Gift to the World: The Australian Indigenous Art Commission at the Musée du quai Branly, Australian Indigenous Art Commission, 2005
  • Cultural Warriors, Indigenous Art Triennale, National Gallery of Australia, 2007

Public collections[edit]

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales[23]
  • National Gallery of Australia[24]
  • Queensland Art Gallery[25]
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney[26]
  • Tate Modern, London
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne[27]
  • Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ ":: Channel :: Art Gallery NSW". www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  2. ^ "Judy Watson". nga.gov.au. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  3. ^ Kngwarreye, Emily Kame; Perkins, Hetti; Watson, Judy; Koolmatrie, Yvonne; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Australia Council; Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission; Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative; Biennale di Venezia 1997) (1997). Fluent : Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Yvonne Koolmatrie, Judy Watson : XLVII esposizione internazionale d'arte La Biennale di Venezia 1997. Sydney, N.S.W: Art Gallery of New South Wales. ISBN 0731304039.
  4. ^ "Naturally in Paris".
  5. ^ "The French Connection".
  6. ^ a b c Reich, Hannah (5 December 2020). "Australian history put through the looking glass by Aboriginal artists Judy Watson and Yhonnie Scarce in new exhibition". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  7. ^ Creaghe, Emily Caroline; Monteath, Peter, 1961- (2004), The diary of Emily Caroline Creaghe : explorer, Corkwood Press, ISBN 978-1-876247-14-0CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Sutton, Candace (8 July 2019), Grisly secret of cattlemen who kept '40 pairs of ears' as trophies in outback horror house, news.com.au
  9. ^ a b Martin-Chew, Louise (2009). Judy Watson: blood language. Miegunyah Press.
  10. ^ "bara - City Art Sydney". City Art Sydney. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  11. ^ Best, Susan (March 2018). "Anger and Repair: The art and politics of Judy Watson's the holes in the land (2015)". Third Text. doi:10.1080/09528822.2018.1442191. S2CID 148996180.
  12. ^ "Print titled 'the holes in the land #1', by Judy Watson". National Museum of Australia. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  13. ^ "Green Screen: Judy Watson: the names of places". Institute of Modern Art. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  14. ^ Australia, May Space Sydney. "Judy Watson | experimental beds 3 | Brenda May Gallery". MAY SPACE Judy Watson experimental beds 3. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  15. ^ "SHELL | Milani Gallery". www.milanigallery.com.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  16. ^ "judy watson – experimental beds | Grahame Galleries". www.grahamegalleries.com.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  17. ^ "judy watson – heron island suite | Grahame Galleries". www.grahamegalleries.com.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  18. ^ "Bad and doubtful debts | Milani Gallery". www.milanigallery.com.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  19. ^ "Judy Watson: Heron Island - UQ Art Museum - The University of Queensland, Australia". www.artmuseum.uq.edu.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  20. ^ a b "Judy Watson". australianartnetwork.com.au. Australian Art Network. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  21. ^ QAGOMA. "The 1st Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT1)". www.qagoma.qld.gov.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  22. ^ Karmel, Pepe (23 June 1995). "ART REVIEW; Antidotes for a Cartoonish Image". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  23. ^ "Judy Watson :: The Collection :: Art Gallery NSW". www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  24. ^ "Judy Watson". nga.gov.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  25. ^ QAGOMA. "Judy Watson". www.qagoma.qld.gov.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  26. ^ "Judy Watson". Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  27. ^ "Untitled | Judy Watson~Waanyi | NGV | View Work". www.ngv.vic.gov.au. Retrieved 12 March 2017.

External links[edit]