Batavia 1629 – Giving voices to the voiceless: new exhibit on fabled wreck to open at UWA’s Lawrence Wilson Gallery


Artist Paul Uhlmann with Archaeology of Birds. Picture: Jon Bassett
Artist Paul Uhlmann with Archaeology of Birds. Picture: Jon Bassett

ARITIST Paul Uhlmann has an intimacy with the past after drawing shipwreck victims’ skulls for the exhibition Batavia 1629 – Giving voices to the voiceless at UWA’s Lawrence Wilson Gallery opening tonight.

“It was a big difference to reading the story of the Batavia shipwreck to drawing the skulls in-situ, at the university, and it felt like I was in the presence of some of the victims,” Uhlmaan said.

In 1629, the Dutch East India Company merchant sailing ship Batavia was wrecked on a reef near the Houtman-Abrolhos group of islands near Geraldton.

The subsequent drowning, deaths and then three-month massacre by mutineers of about a third of about 341 men, women and children aboard the ship meant only 68 of those who originally left Holland got to Indonesia.

For the past two years, a collaboration of artists, university and WA Maritime Museum scientists have rediscovered and reinterpreted that story, including finding 14 sets of victims’ remains on the islands.

Inspired by natural process after massacre, artists Alistair Paterson and Daniel Franklin and Uhlmann created the Archaeology of Birds of glass teeth.

“One of the bodies found on Beacon Island was not found because of the ground penetrating radar the scientists used, but a tooth that was found on the ground that was thought to have been brought to the surface by a bird,” Mr Uhlmann said.

Among the works by nine artists, the public can also experience what may be the story of one of the victims who talks from the past in a video by Corioli Souter.

Paul Bourke’s video image shows a victim’s grave and skeleton, buried in the brittle island sand, as a stark reminder of the horrific story.

The Batavia exhibition, and Being Tiwi which explores life on the Northern Territory’s Tiwi Islands, opens on Friday October 7 until December 9.

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