How Barbara Weir Reclaims Her Stolen Past through Paintings

Australia’s complex history is woven into the work of painter Barbara Weir. In an abstract style all her own, the artist uses a lively palette and the most elemental of gestures—dots, or short, energetic strokes—to evoke her homeland. But Weir’s Australia isn’t full of the familiar images of picture postcards. The artist is a part of the “stolen generation” of aboriginal and mixed-race children forcefully taken from their families by the government in a misguided attempt to assimilate them into the country’s European majority, and the reclamation of her lost personal history—including the native language she was forced to forget yet later relearned—is central to her work.   

In some ways, art is in Weir’s blood. Her mother, Minnie Pwerle, was a well-known artist, and her aunt and mentor, Emily Kngwarreye, was a master of batik and one of the most renowned aboriginal artists of her day. The legacy of Weir’s family is particularly evident in the series “My Mother’s Country,” in which Weir creates rhythmic abstractions using an intricate layering of dots in hues of ochre, green, and blue, calling to mind an Australian landscape seen from above. The country’s flora is also the inspiration for her “Grass Seed” paintings, which capture the movement of grass swaying in the wind through a network of choppy brushstrokes. In other works, she directly references the ceremonies and cultural traditions with which she was raised, including sandpainting—a method of passing down history and telling stories about the concept of “The Dreaming,” Australia’s native creation story.

Drawing influence from Kngwarreye, Weir works in a unique style of painting that was inspired, in part, by a trip to Indonesia, where she and a group of aboriginal female artists studied the technique of batik dyeing. As Weir’s style has continued to evolve along with her experiments with color and pattern, she has attracted attention around the world, exhibiting everywhere from Switzerland to the United States. 

—Heather Corcoran

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