anita and beyond exhibition

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We as a society are occassionally hit by horrific events that effect the community as a whole, bringing about fear, controvercy and anger. Art strives to create controversy and seems to gain domince through the portrayal of violation towards people. The latest exhibition at the Penrith Gallery entitled “Anita and Beyond” tells the story of the abduction, rape and murder of Anita Cobby, 6 in 187. This was an event that sparked a public outcry and held uncomprehendable consequences for her five murderers. A crime that horrified the nation has been revisited and is aimed at educating the public about crime and providing memories of Anita in an attempt to heal.

The aim of this exhibition is to help those effected to heal and broaden the public’s understanding of violent crime. An aim that has been stated and published by the curator Lisa Havilah stating that the exhibition “aims to tell personal stories about life after homicide in an attempt to educate and heal. We decided to look from the point of her rape and murder onwards, she says. Whats happened in the past 17 years? What has she affected? What has changed? How do people feel about it now? Did it change the direction of peoples lives?

Not only is this exhibition a “touchy area” but seems to revisit the horrific events of her murder even though this may not have been their initial intention. Some show reluctance as these artworks can be perceived differently depending on the public’s opinion about an event that accurred almost 17 years ago.

The exhibition features photographs, memorabilia, oral histories and artworks by 1 contemporary artists including Adam Cullen, David Grigs and Jasmine Hirst. There are television screens showing front pages, interviews, reports. It features true evidence such as the statement made by Miss X which was vital for the arrest of the main perpetrator John Travers. First person accounts from the police, sheriffs, journalists etc provide the public with a chance to understand and come to grip with the suffering endured by many. An exhibition that forces the viewer to question life and death bringing forward the uncertainty and fear felt by the victims following such a tragedy has had a major response from the public. A response that revisits the anger and frustration following her death.

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Some of the artworks commisioned were faithful to the intention of the exhibition portraying the memory of Anita Cobby before her murder. Controversial works that shocked and evoked strong opinions were the portraits commissioned by Adam Cullen.

The work entitled Watching by Ormella is based on Anitas last train journey headed for Blacktown. On one screen there is footage of Ormella leaving Blacktown station making her way through a dark road. The video shows three women taking the train, footage that is made more effective due to the fact that it is spliced with the police re-enactment in 186. The footage creating a sombre mood and the harsh reality about the perceptions of women. In Petrovitchs The Anita Project a combiantion of imagery appears on video screens - Anitas last journey, text, the mourning of her loved ones presented by an actor representing Traverss mother, Sharon, and Petrovitch mourning. This work captures and holds the attention leaving the viewer in mixed feelings of desperation and pain.

Cullens large portraits of the perpetrators are based on mugshots. Travers is depicted in bright yellows and pinks, but the others are in grey monotones. The five subjects stare blankly with no remorse, their faces expressionless. Hirst has critisized Cullen for his portraits of the murderers. Her rage at his statement about how he felt sorry for the perpetrators clearly evident. Her statement also directed at Anita is emotiolly empowering “sorry anita nothing has changed. I can’t change anything”. Cullen replied by stating that “art isn’t about shutting down dialogue but opening up dialogue, even when it’s messy and distasteful.” This statement, the portraits and the aim of this exhibition seem to clash. It has been stated that the exhibition is aimed at healing and life after crime. This aim would be satisfied through works featuring a part of Anita. It is not a controversial show or one aimed at opening dialogue but an attempt to heal which seems to have been a concept changed totally by the inclusion of the perpetrators portraits by Adam Cullen. His choice as stated was messy and distasteful and one that seems to not only made the exhibition controversial but also has changed the community by revisiting the murder and not in the least helping the healing process. The anger and devastation following the event has been revisited through the inclusion of these portraits and the way the public reacts to them.

Having stated the above each artist is entitled to their view and even though Cullen’s decision is somewhat peculiar it could be the change that the public is seeking. It may be a way of making the public realise the devastating actions of the five men who despite their actions are only human. They are not dehumanised in any way and could be the diversity some are seeking in order to heal. Although effective in a sense he does not remain faithful to the intent of the exhibition. Adam Cullen adds flavour to this exhibition giving it a sense of violence. It shows how humans are capable of such horrific actions forcing the viewer to develop a sense of hate towards the subjects his work and therefore violence. Such hate is generated due to the content as well as the facial expressions of the five. Expressions showing absolutely no sense of remorse. Expressions that verify the truly horrific nature of human existence.

A comment made by Havilah seems to support the work of Cullen as well as show what a powerful effect art has on the community. Art is “the critical tool for opening up dialogue, as our visual language can communicate to us in ways that our conscious minds do not register. Through this statement the exhibition seems to portray images that provide the public with the opportunity to see and learn what they had not known therefore forming a more powerful opinion towards violent crime in relation to this event..

Personally I have been effected by the works featured in this exhibition and have learnt from their powerful messages. By observing the works I felt scared, angry and hopeless. If this exhibition can effect others as it has effected me then I believe the artists have achieved their intention and more. The exhibition portrays the impact of violence and the social aspect of her murder. It aims to effect the direction of crime with no attempt made to hide the issue and horror of violence. It challenges violence and should be applauded in its positive intent.

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