Never before seen, history-defining moments captured on film will be on display for the first time in 40 years at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.
Justice for Violet and Bruce Roberts is a collection of photographs by renowned visual artist Helen Grace, collated by senior Australian curator Julie Ewington, on display for the Gallery’s Winter Exhibition.
The collection focuses on a historical domestic murder court case in Sydney in 1980. Violet Roberts and her son Bruce Roberts were arrested and convicted of murdering Violet’s husband, Eric Roberts.
However the Roberts’ personal story was not told during the trial as it would endanger their defence of provocation, which could only be argued if the killing was done “in the heat of the moment”.
NSW prison activist group Women Behind Bars launched the “Free Violet and Bruce Roberts” campaign in response to this injustice.
The campaign led to a change to the NSW Crimes Act to recognise the impact and effects of domestic violence.
The Winter Exhibition will showcase the campaign photographs taken by Ms Grace alongside street posters and a campaign banner on loan from the National Museum of Australia.
The photographer of more than 50 years is thrilled to showcase her photographs in the Art Gallery’s recently refurbished New Media/ Project Lab space.
“I took photographs of the everyday and it has an invisible quality. And it’s only time that develops the image – it takes 30 or 40 years to know what you’ve got,” Ms Grace said.
“When I first took these images, I didn’t think I had anything very interesting. But 40 years later, they have a presence. They become historical, partly mythological and partly allegorical.”
The award-winning filmmaker and photographer said the issues behind her photographs are now universal.
“We’ve focused on a historical domestic violence case rather than something more contemporary,” she said.
“It allows us to reflect in general on the issue without causing any distress.
Ms Grace is from country Victoria and is interested in showing her work in regional areas. She has connections to the Riverina after her relatives made the shift in the early 20th century.
Senior Australian curator Julie Ewington said the archive of 253 original photographs is helpful in considering the issues raised 40 years ago and what people think about them now.
“We’re very happy to show younger women,” she said.
“We know that there’s a great deal of interest amongst younger women from all parts of the country.”
The Gallery invited Ms Grace and Ms Ewington, a curator of more than 40 years, to showcase the photographs as part of the Winter Exhibition, exploring artists’ social and political commitments.
Wagga’s F.Stop Workshop printed Ms Grace’s campaign photographs.
Both the visual artist and curator are interested in links they share with the local artists and the local creative industries.
“We have been meeting the most amazing artists and there is so much happening, even though it is sad the way the University (Charles Sturt University) has been impacted by the changes in high education (axing of Creative Industries degree),” Ms Grace said.
“The erosion of higher education is a tragedy.”
Alongside the exhibition, Ms Grace and Ms Ewington will undertake three residencies at the Art Gallery during 2022, which will involve working with a range of artists across the local community and broader region.
Both leading women in their respective fields met through art circles in the 1980s. Even when Ms Grace was working out of the country, they arranged to meet for lunch and see exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Art Gallery director Doctor Lee-Anne Hall said the exhibition would resonate strongly with everyone given the age of Me Too, violence around women and the Brittany Higgens’ and Grace Tames of the world.
“My view is that galleries and museums are sites of civil society,” she said.
“They are safe spaces for challenging ideas and are not just about pretty pictures.
“We also want to delight and surprise people, but we are part of a larger conversation in Australia and globally in this community.”
The Winter Exhibition will explore the social and political commitments of artists. The suite of exhibits will also showcase the contemporary quilt practice of Jenny Bowker AO in Pack and Follow and political prints and posters in both Talking Posters: Garage Graphix 1981–1998 and Techniques of Persuasion – Second Strike from the Gallery’s own collection.
The Winter Exhibition program will be officially launched at 4 pm on Saturday 4 June by Wagga City Mayor Dallas Tout and pre-recorded guest speaker, arts and cultural development manager from Blacktown Arts, Alicia Talbot.
For more information, visit Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.