Woomera-born Yhonnie Scarce, a descendant of the Kokatha people from the Lake Eyre region and the Nukunu from around Port Lincoln, majored in glass making at the South Australian School of Art. She uses the medium of glass to explore the treatment of Aboriginal Australians in both historic and contemporary contexts.
Aesthetically beautiful, politically motivated and personally driven, Yhonnie Scarce’s delicately crafted glass work explores the continuing effects of colonisation on Australia’s First People. With its laboratory setting, her work Weak In Colour But Strong In Blood (2013–14), references the medico-scientific eugenic practices of the early 1900s, particularly those performed by the Australian anthropologist and ethnologist Norman Tindale, including on Scarce’s own family members.
Symbolic of Aboriginal people, different fruit skins are squashed into beakers, and the younger, lighter-coloured ones are segregated and separated into other trays ready to be sent to nice new white homes. Then there are the broken black bush plums, disfigured and discarded. Scarce reminds us of the harrowing ordeals that occurred in rooms like these all those years ago. This type of inhumane research resulted in dangerous forms of stereotyping that continue to shape attitudes around Aboriginally.
Scarce’s heritage stems from the Nukunu people, whose land stretches from Port Pirie to Port Lincoln along the coastal region of South Australia; and the Kokatha Mula, who called the expanse of the pristine Mallee country from outback Ceduna to the Eyre Peninsula home. Her heritage is deeply imbued in her work, and she often creates a dialogue about her own family and their personal histories. Courageously, she expresses the social and political patterns found in historical and contemporary Australian culture, while pointing out the breakdown of Indigenous social structures. By presenting such strong messages of survival and culture, Scarce boldly exposes histories lost, forgotten, hidden or ignored.
Image: Weak in Colour but Strong in Blood (installation detail), 2015, Blown glass and found components, dimensions variable; photograph by Brenton McGeachie.
Yhonnie Scarce is represented by This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery.