Yhonnie Scarce’s installation looks beautiful, even magical at first glance – and then you notice the title; or maybe it’s the ‘horns’ of the formation that sets off a sense of misgiving. “I’ve noticed it has a mouth,” says the artist.
‘Death Zephyr’ relates to the Woomera Prohibited Area: a no-go zone, presided over by the Department of Defence, that comprises roughly an eighth of South Australia – and a site of extensive nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s. Almost 20 series of tests were undertaken in the Maralinga area (named for the Yolngu word ‘thunder’) alone.
“Those clouds travelled across my country, which is Kokatha country, and reached as far as my birth place in Woomera,” says the artist. “Death Zephyr is about the stories of these ‘creeping clouds’, which killed people in their path. If it wasn’t immediate, it was months or years down the track.”
Scarce’s arts practice has focused on the Maralinga tests for several years now. In 2015 she created a similar ‘cloud’ work for the TARNANTHI exhibition in South Australia, called ‘Thunder raining poison’.
“For me it’s important to represent those deaths, and acknowledge the Aboriginal people that died from these tests. A lot of my work revolves around memorialisation. I believe visual art is a really powerful medium to talk about these incidents and this history.”