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14 May 2019 / by Catherine Lau

From the Collections: ‘Mother’ by Tracey Moffatt

Film still showing an older woman hugging a man with an emotional expression on her face. We see her face over the man’s shoulder, and the man has his back towards us.

Tracey Moffatt, Mother, 2009, video (colour + black and white, mono sound), M+, Hong Kong. Gift of Tracey Moffatt, 2018. © Tracey Moffatt. Still shown is from American Gangster (2007), directed by Ridley Scott

Mother by Tracey Moffatt is in the M+ Collections, but what is it, who made it, and why did M+ acquire it? Catherine Lau, Assistant Curator, Moving Image, M+, explains.

Hi Catherine. Can you introduce us to this work?

Mother (2009) is a video by Australian contemporary artist Tracey Moffatt. It forms part of the Montage video series created by Moffatt and her long-time collaborator Gary Hillberg. Created between 1999 and 2015, the series consists of a suite of eight short videos that draw upon a range of stereotypes from Hollywood films. Together they interrogate and re-frame the nature of representation in popular culture.

Mother compiles clips of mother figures from classic Hollywood cinema and television dramas. The figures range from the Virgin Mary and Mother Courage, to characters from Maude (1972–78), Aliens (1986), Imitation of Life (1959), and American Gangster (2007). The characters play out scenes of care, loss, emotional manipulation, abandonment, and grief. The intense relationships between mothers and daughters are especially prominent.

Lasting almost twenty minutes, the work offers a commentary on the virtual umbilical cord that links mother and child. It also demonstrates Moffatt’s deep knowledge of different filmic genres. Clips range from comedic scenes in soap operas to emotional arguments in dramas. Regardless of genre, Mother features universal stories of love and angst between mothers and their children.

Tell us about the artist!

Film still showing two women side by side. The woman in the left is white and is wearing an old-fashioned dress, staring straight ahead with a determined expression. The woman on the right is black and is dressed in an old-fashioned maid’s uniform. She is looking at the woman on the left and is saying something to her.

A still from another work in the Montage series. Tracey Moffatt, Lip, 1999, video (colour + black and white, mono sound), M+, Hong Kong. Gift of Tracey Moffatt, 2018. © Tracey Moffatt. Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. Still shown is from Gone with the Wind (1939), directed by Victor Fleming

Tracey Moffatt was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1960. She is known for her photographs, films, and videos. She received her BA in visual communications from the Queensland College of Art in 1982, and currently lives and works in Sydney and New York. Although she consistently advocates for an Indigenous perspective on history, and is of Aboriginal Australian heritage, she refuses to be pigeonholed as an ‘Aboriginal artist.’

Moffatt draws upon both popular culture and her own life experiences in her artworks. Her storytelling is often full of drama and heightened emotions. She explores themes such as racial subjugation, maternal domination, gender stereotypes, class division, sexuality, and identity in an Australian context. Moffatt represented Australia at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017 with a solo exhibition titled My Horizon.

Why is this in the M+ Collections?

Film still showing a close-up of a man and a woman’s faces in profile. They are standing very close, and the man is saying something in the woman’s ear while she gazes over his shoulder.

A still from another work in the Montage series. Tracey Moffatt, Love, 2003, video (colour + black and white, mono sound), M+, Hong Kong. Gift of Tracey Moffatt, 2018. © Tracey Moffatt. Still shown is from Mildred Pierce (1945), directed by Michael Curtiz

Moffatt’s career in experimental filmmaking and photography has made her one of the most respected Australian artists working today. In addition to Mother, her works in the M+ Collections include a series of twelve photographs titled Passage (2017), shown at the 57th Venice Biennale; a video called Vigil (2017), also part of the Venice presentation; and Lip (1999) and Love (2003), two earlier works from the Montage series.

Strong cinematic influences pervade Moffatt’s work, and offer an anchor point to the artist’s observations and reimagining of love and relationships. Mother and the Montage series reflect these important aspects of Moffatt’s artistic practice. They also complement M+’s growing collection of contemporary art hailing from the broader Asia-Pacific region.

This article was originally published on M+ Stories.

Catherine Lau is Assistant Curator, Moving Image at M+.

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