How the church messed up with Aboriginal Australians

Hope Beyond the Window by Jacqui Stewart

This image by Jacqui Stewart is entitled “Hope Beyond the Window”. As an Australian Christian I find it very confronting. Here is an interpretation of the image that Jacqui passed on through her blog:

‘The above piece of work depicts the scene of half-caste Aboriginal children sitting in front of the church they were taken too after being ‘stolen’ from their parents. In first looking at this representation, it may be misinterpreted as a seemingly peaceful scene. Images of green trees, leaves blowing in the wind and the children sitting in an almost structured fashion. The church in the distance looks well established; something probably constructed by White settlers. It is hard to tell, but it may be built using bricks. The sky is blue with minimal clouds evident, giving us the impression that it was a nice clear day when this artwork was created.

Due to the topic of this essay, and perhaps even the title of the artwork itself, it is evident that this is not a depiction of a happy occurrence. The children dressed in white sitting calmly on the ground are children that have been stolen from their parents without choice. The children are sitting there calmly because they have been told. The church is where the children are being taught the Western way of life and how a White settlers’ way of living is considered ‘better’ than those of Aborigines.

In delving deeper into analysing this piece of art, some features became more clear that would otherwise perhaps go unnoticed. There were multiple hidden symbols that represent particular ideas that the artist may have been trying to convey when creating this piece of work.

One feature is that the children were always dressed in white. All children wore the exact same dress-like clothing. One may consider this to be the uniform of the particular camp or church that they were taken too. The artist may have been trying to convey the idea that the Aboriginal half-casts were now being taught the White settlers’ way of living, their culture, and their beliefs. In other words, the Aboriginal children were being taught how to become white, hence the symbolism of the all white clothing against the dark skin.

Another idea that the artist may have been trying to get the viewer to see was one of hope. The layout of this painting alone gives this feeling to the viewer about the children sitting in the foreground. To show someone or something belonging to something else, for example, these children belonging to the church, the technique of proximity would be used. The further things are apart from each other, the lesser of a relationship exists between the objects. In looking at this image, the children are seated quite far away from the church, suggesting that although they were taken to this church to be a part of something, they don’t actually belong to the church or the White settlers’. The wide-open spaces surrounding the children and the church indicate space. Then there is also the space between the children and the church itself. This space indicates room to move; in particular, room to move away, or escape from the church. This suggests that there is hope for the children, and that they may not need to spend their future being forced to do something against their will. They had a choice in the matter, and a chance to set them free.’

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