Judy Watson's work is deeply connected to concealed histories, the significance of objects and the power of memory and loss. She was born in Mundubbera in south-east Queensland but the spirit of much of her work stems from the Waanyi homeland of her grandmother and great-grandmother in north-west Queensland.
In tow row, Judy Watson has responded to this site close to the Brisbane River by referencing woven nets used by Aboriginal people of the area, acknowledging the traditional owners of the site and their everyday fishing activities on the river and local saltwater waterways.
This use of fibre and water as the conduit for catching fish evokes ideas of sustenance, family, culture, survival. The bark used to make the nets was probably collected from the swamps and scrub in the vicinity of the river. The inner bark fibre would have been rolled along the legs, then woven into nets and attached to wood for easy manipulation during the harvesting of fish. The woven nets allow light and air to pass through them and create beautiful shadows across the surface of the ground. The fragility of the objects cloak their hidden strength, a metaphor for the resilience of Aboriginal people who have held onto the importance of land, culture and family through adversity and deprivation. [Judy Watson 2016]
Judy Watson's tow row was realised as a Queensland Indigenous Artist Public Art Commission with the generous support from the Queensland Government, the Neilson Foundation and Cathryn Mittelheuser, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation.. This QAGOMA initiative, part of the GOMA's tenth anniversary celebrations, aimed to visibly acknowledge the contribution of Queensland Indigenous artists and the continuous role played by Indigenous Australians in the cultural life of this country.
The Gallery received expressions of interest from Indigenous artists in urban, regional and remote areas around Queensland who were interested in undertaking the commission. A selection panel of highly regarded Indigenous Australians including historian and anthropologist Michael Aird, QAGOMA Curator of Indigenous Australian Art Bruce McLean, architect Kevin O'Brien and Gallery board member Avril Quaill joined QAGOMA Director Chris Saines to determine the successful concept for this major public work.
The panel unanimously selected Judy Watson's proposal for a bronze sculpture inspired by the traditional woven fishing nets of south-east Queensland's Aboriginal communities.