Photography Exhibition Review
WE ARE ONE – The First XI | Claire Letitia Reynolds and Sasha Parlett
PhotoAccess | 20 Jan – 10 Feb 2023
Everyone should see this exhibition. All indigenous people, because it is about a significant event in their history. Cricketers and cricket lovers, as it’s a significant cricket story. Historians, since it’s a historical event. Photographers and everyone interested in the medium. And everyone else, as it’s a fascinating and important story.
The portraits in WE ARE ONE – The First XI were produced by artist Claire Letitia Reynolds, the filmed interviews by Sasha Parlett. Reynolds discovered her love of photography at 14. She is known for capturing subjects at their most familiar moments. Parlett is the proud descendant of the first Indigenous woman to break in horses, was born on Darumbal country and educated and raised in Kabi Kabi ways. Together, the two artists are aiming to champion this epic piece of Australian history.
Parlett’s two videos are a series of vignette interviews providing a documentary style look into the verbal history of cricket in Australia. Through discussions with descendants of The First XI, past and current First Nations Cricketers, a
light is shed on the truths and triumphs such cricketers have faced since The First XI. Highlighting a forgotten history of this colonial sport turning stockmen into athletes and becoming an iconic sport within First Nations communities. The exhibition aims to uplift and contribute to reconciliation in Australia.
Reynolds’ artworks, created utilising analogue and digital processes, comprise twenty-two portraits and three landscapes referencing the unique connection between Australian Indigenous people, culture and Country. The First XI included men from tribes in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. The portraits are of current and past Indigenous Australian cricketers, direct descendants of the First XI, and Elders.
Incredibly, this indigenous team of thirteen athletes undertook Australia’s first ever international tour. It is a story of strength, triumph and, sadly, tragedy. Several players suffered severe illness. Some were sent home early; others lost their lives. Despite the tragic incidents, the ledger was 14 apiece at the end of the England-wide tournament.
This exhibition seeks to square up the Australian identity ledger, with these pioneering men providing impetus for progress. Their story of courage, resilience, and identity is celebrated with pride. The beautifully printed artworks from hand-developed films are mostly on fine art paper using handcrafted dyes from various trees, bark, leaves, and sap.
One large portrait, of Aunty Fiona Clarke, is printed on 100% pure mulberry silk and displayed hung on a found Eucalyptus branch.
Three landscapes showing black swans are hung close together in a row alongside each other on an end wall of the gallery.
Below each portrait are quotes from ‘Cricket walkabout : the Australian Aboriginal cricketers on tour, 1867-8 / D.J. Mulvaney’. Part of one reads “Yanggendyinadyuk/Dick-a-Dick challenged all comers to stand 15 or 20 yards distant and pelting with cricket balls….protected his body with a [narrow wooden parrying shield]….during his displays he often called out to the throwers ‘Can’t you do better than that?’….His wooden club is now in Lord’s Cricket Museum.”
There is one other rather special exhibit – The First XI Didge-Bat, with the names of The First XI inscribed.
The project was previously exhibited briefly on the Sunshine Coast (where Reynolds is based). It opened here as a big bash cricket fixture next door attracted a huge crowd by comparison. Its run includes the contentious 26 January date. It will be going to the home of The First XI – Harrow, Victoria and elsewhere. It is hoped to show it at Lord’s. And, more importantly, I was pleased to learn there are folk seeking to have items such as the previously mentioned club returned to Country.
This review was first published by The Canberra Times here and in its print edition of 28/1/23. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.