I took a photo of this cartoon in 2010 when I visited the Museum of Sydney in Australia. It shows an Indigenous mother and child dressed in European style clothing, seated on a city street. Non-indigenous onlookers are gathered around staring at them. The cartoon called A Curiosity in Her Own Country is by Phil May and appeared in a Sydney newspaper called the Bulletin in March of 1888. In 1888 Indigenous people in Australia lived in poverty on reserves or in camps on the fringes of cities. They were kept out of sight. Many people rarely saw them. So it is easy to imagine that when they did, they might have stared at them as if they were unusual or exotic. Ironically in the 1800s the word ‘curiousity’ meant a unique item worthy of a place in a collection. The cartoonist satirizes the fact that the woman is seen as a ‘curiosity’ in her own country. The woman and child are drawn realistically while the onlookers are caricatures.
In 2009 Australian artist Martin Sharp created a painting called Australia based on the 1888 cartoon. It was also on display in the Museum of Sydney during our 2010 visit. Sharp’s rendition reminds me of a nativity scene. The mother and child both have halos the way Mary and Jesus often did in Renaissance paintings. The stars adorning Sharp’s painting remind me of the starry sky in Bethlehem that led curious onlookers like the shepherds and Magi to Jesus. Was Jesus a ‘curiosity’ in his ancestral home?
Both May’s 1888 cartoon and Sharp’s 2009 painting make me wonder who we relegate to the status of ‘curiosity’ in 2014.
Other posts about Mary ……….