For summer 2018/19, Melbourne’s Immigration Museum presents a groundbreaking new exhibition, “Love.” The exhibition presents Australian love stories of all kinds that traverse landscapes of time, gender, orientation, ethnicity, age, and distance. We speak with exhibition curators Dr. Moya McFadzean and Isabel Smith from Museums Victoria about this fascinating exhibition.
Where did the idea of an exhibition focussing on the concept of love come from?
The Immigration Museum has been looking at exhibition ideas which explore universal human themes that we all have in common. The idea for an exhibition about love was inspired by a conversation between the Immigration Museum and Heide Museum of Modern Art about how our two organisations might collaborate on a project. And “Love” resonates both with the complex love stories amongst the artist community at Heide, as well as the personal Australian stories of love that we wanted to bring to life at the Immigration Museum.
How long did it take to the put “Love” together?
Our first conversations with Heide began in December 2017 but the intensive exhibition development work kicked off around April 2018. This has involved a range of talented museum staff and external creatives to produce an exhibition that is rich in personal stories, voices and objects, with a bold contemporary design and an innovative digital experience.
What was the biggest challenge in creating this exhibition?
Love is such an enormous theme so one of the biggest challenges for us has been to try to capture love in all its diversity, both in terms of types of love as well as voices and experiences. So, for example, this exhibition is not just about romantic love but love amongst families and friends. And we not only explore the joy and tenderness of love, but heartbreak and the grief of loss. In order to achieve this diversity across time, place and people, we not only trawled our own collections at Museums Victoria and Heide, but we drew on our community networks to give voice to new stories.
What are some of the most significant objects/works featured in “Love?”
We are featuring some very poignant items from our migration collections, such as a baby blanket brought by a Sudanese refugee family to Australia, and a series of adoring love letters written between a post-World War II English migrant couple in the months before they married.
We are also excited to be displaying for the first-time objects from our First Peoples collections. These include stunning late nineteenth-century mourning garments from Oro Province in Papua New Guinea which have been beautifully interpreted by a young PNG artist. We also feature a rare portrait of Wurundjeri leader William Barak. These collection items are complemented by wonderful new commissioned works by local artists, poets and performers.
In terms of artworks from the Heide collections, visitors to the exhibition will be able to see works by artists including Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester, Albert Tucker, Mirka Mora and Richard Larter.
Love is at the centre of all our relationships. What are some of the "love stories" from the exhibition that resonated the most with you?
We have found working on this exhibition to be a very emotional experience, as we have been immersed in deeply moving love stories. People have been so generous with sharing their experiences and treasured objects. We recorded intimate interviews with over thirty people which have been produced as short audio stories that visitors can listen to and we think they will be as moved by them as we have been.
We have loved the story of a young First Peoples couple from Queensland sharing their devotion to their newborn baby; delighted in the warm friendship between two Maori women who share their traditional creative practices; been inspired by the romance between two Melbourne women who formalised their marriage vows after the marriage equality act; and shed tears as we listened to a member of the Stolen Generation reading a letter to the mother he was taken from.
The exhibition features artworks from the Heide Museum of Modern Art. Can you tell us about Heide’s history of intriguing love stories?
In 1934, John and Sunday Reed established Heide, a rural property in Heidelberg. Heide attracted and nurtured some of the greatest Australian artists of the time, including Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester, Albert Tucker, Mirka Mora and Charles Blackman. But it also bred many love affairs, tangled relationships, and heartache. We explore some of these complicated relationships in the exhibition, including the passionate ménage à trois between John, Sunday and Nolan, and the enduring friendship between Sunday and Joy Hester.
What is the one thing you hope visitors take away with them after experiencing the exhibition?
We hope “Love” will be a deeply moving experience for our visitors that inspires them to reflect on their own relationships and empathise with the experiences of other people. Our ultimate dream would be that visitors not only leave behind their own stories in the exhibition but feel inspired to share their own expressions of love beyond the museum walls.