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west end—a sense of place
It was the boisterous and colourful middle class Indian family in the film Monsoon Wedding, who inspired an exhibition about the inner city Brisbane suburb of West End. According to artist Judy Parrott, she was struck by the way the people in the film belong within their culture, 'their music, their colour, their noise, their movement-all so much a part of who they are'. Her solo exhibition West End-A Sense of Place strove to capture the ambience of this suburb-its noise, its colour, its movement-through a combination of photographs, sensory sculptures, photographic collages, poetry, and sound recordings.
During Monsoon Wedding it occurred to Parrott that 'if you take away their (the Verma's) culture and sense of belonging, what is left of the story? A hollow shell, perhaps... That people belong within their place or culture seems intrinsic to their being'. It is an interesting point in light of the film , as one of director Mira Nair's enduring themes is the ongoing effects of the Indian diaspora. Despite the illusion of cultural cohesion, subplots within the film reveal a culture grappling with displacement.
The same could be said for West End. It is a community struggling to maintain cohesion in the face of rapid change. Parrott's exhibition was much more than a celebration of place. It was also a protest. It opened during the terminal stages of a decade long campaign to save The Gully.1 At the time, West Enders were once again confronting the Brisbane City Council in an ongoing debate over plans for the Gully's future. West End has, for a number of years, been facing rapid development, gentrification and, in Parrott's opinion, homogenisation.
Parrott addressed a number of themes in the exhibition-'life in West End, the people and buildings, celebration of diversity, support of social issues in the area and current controversial changes to (the} social and built environment'. Her images recalled 1970's photo documentations of political demonstrations, and street photography of local people and places boarding house residents and migrants, local second hand book stores, op shops and community cafes. It was a specific view of West End and a particular sector of the community Parrott chose to convey. Her subjects were the timeless subjects of documentary photography-street life, the underprivileged, a world that is disappearing. However, unlike some documentary photographers whose work has been described as 'middle class social adventurism'2 or who have been declared 'the clear, individual figure of a universality of which his subjects were the obscure, collective form' ,3 Parrott was not disassociated from her subjects (politically or socially). She was situated within her locale-after all West End is her community, having settled there and fought its battles.
This intimate knowledge of place served Parrott well. It was her streetscape images, perhaps her strongest photographic work, that highlighted the uniqueness of West End and captured the spirit of the community. The black and white photograph, The Green Man, is testimony to a subversive community life that has gradually obscured the basic structure of a City Council facility. Beside the pedestrian crossing light and won key directional signage, jostling for space on a corner are a street pole covered with the detritus of posters, a gaudy replica of a Corinthian pillar, and the bright lights and contemporary script of franchises-an accumulation of community life, new and old.
In Grass Roots, an image of a community notice board, posters declare the political leanings of Parrot's West End. Signs pronounce Escaped Refugees Welcomed, Save The Gully, Stop The WAR, Bikes Against Nukes. Her collages, photographic images overlaid with newspaper cut outs, Real Estate blurbs, and graffiti, were perhaps a stronger comment on the destruction of community then the inanimate images of old houses and building sites.
1. The last remaining parcel of rainforest within inner city Brisbane, located in West End.
2. Sontag, S. , 'Melancholy Objects', On Photography, Penguin Books, London, 1979, p.55.
3. Moore, C., Photo-Documentary's Fluctuating Fortunes, in Koop S. (ed.}, Value Added Goods: Essays on Contemporary Photography, Art and Ideas, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, 2002, p.27.