Maternal inheritances

16 May to 5 Aug 2023

Artists: Darcey Bella Arnold, Betty Chimney and Raylene Walatinna, Calista Lyon and Carmen Winant, Noriko Nakamura, Jahnne Pasco-White, Nina Sanadze and Yhonnie Scarce
Curator: Amelia Wallin

Maternal inheritances is an exhibition of Australian and international artists that explores the entanglements of motherhood and matriarchy with ideas of genealogy, influence and impact.

The term ‘maternal inheritance’ refers to a biological phenomenon whereby mitochondrial DNA is transferred from mother to offspring. Despite being present in most multicellular organisms, the fact that mitochondrial DNA only contains maternal DNA continues to elude biologists. It is this phenomenon that enables the popular at-home ancestry kits, where a sample of saliva can trace maternal DNA to help us better understand our ancestral lineage.

Maternal inheritances takes this biological occurrence as a starting point to develop an expanded understanding of the maternal that includes other experiences of kin-making. It proposes maternal inheritance as a state of entanglement that produces multiple, complex relations to and with the world. It expresses these positions through a range of artistic responses across disciplines and between generations.

The exhibition presents artworks – sculpture, painting, multi-channel video and installation – that address Country and matrilineality, material and ancestral inheritance, anthropogenic catastrophies and intergenerational trauma.

For the artists, ideas about maternal inheritance are linked to non-linear understandings of time and complex relations to memory, materials and motherhood. In this way, the exhibition is multidirectional; the artists look back at previous generations to glean knowledge, understanding of histories and a sense of self and identity, while contemplating the future.

As we face climate emergencies of catastrophic proportions, to say that the future feels uncertain is an understatement. Yet the concept of inheritance, be it material or ancestral, is quietly optimistic. The notion of inheritance assumes that there are still resources – indeed, a future – to inherit. In drawing parallels between reproductive and ecological care, this exhibition invites artists and audiences to navigate and reflect on maternal inheritance both as a state of precarity and an optimistic blueprint for our future.