The first of Captain Cooks voyages to the Pacific (17681771) was momentous for not only would he chart the east coast of Australia, but also irrevocably change the course of history of this ancient country and its First Nations peoples. Both an extraordinary navigator and harbinger of the colonisation of Australia, Cook was acknowledged as a contested symbol of our Nation during the 250th commemoration of his arrival.
A new exhibition at the David Roche Foundation
, Captain Cook & the Art of Memorabilia brings together ninety objects and art from both private and public collections from the period of three voyages, memorabilia related to Cook, and contemporary responses to the man by First Nations artists Christian Thompson, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd and artist Ben Quilty.
Warwick Thornton of the Kaytej Nation, filmmaker/director said in 2018: Art is a way to deconstruct the myth of Cook and grapple with the potency of his story to reframe and reinterpret the first encounter.
The genesis for Captain Cook & the Art of Memorabilia came from David Roche, founder of the museum. In 2004 he acquired the HMS Resolution table, c.1810, a significant piece of English Regency memorabilia so-called because it contains a piece of oak from the ship and an inscription to James Cook set amongst exotic timbers from the lands he visited. Situated across four major exhibition themes, we begin our journey with Cooks recording and charting of the east coast of Australia and Tasmania. Then personal items belonging to Cook and commemorative memorabilia are displayed to consider Cook both as person and an event that has evolved in tandem with Australias national identity.
Portraits of Cook explore the establishment of a set of character traits that persisted well into the twentieth century. Historical works are situated alongside contemporary responses by Ben Quilty and First Nations artists Gordon Bennett, Christian Thompson and Sandra Saunders to interrogate what Cook means today. The final, fourth intersection with Cook approaches sovereignty that was never ceded by First Nations peoples and is now the site of (re)appropriating the symbols of empire.
Three years in development, Captain Cook & the Art of Memorabilia is curated by The David Roche Foundation. The must see works in this exhibition says Robert Reason are James Cook, A chart of the Southern Hemisphere: shewing the tracks of some of the most distinguished navigators, 1777, Richard Goodman, cabinetmaker, HMS Resolution table, c.1810, Gordon Bennett, Message in a bottle, 1989 and Ali Gumillya Baker, Sovereign Fleet (black), 2013.
This exhibition unpacks the notion of memorabilia and memorialisation of Cook what has been kept of Cook, recorded, photographed, souvenired, named and remembered in Australia in the 250 years since his landing and examines how contemporary and First Nations artists have responded to the symbol of Cook and empire to generate change. Robert Reason, Museum Director, The David Roche Foundation.