Layer upon layer, red, black and white clouds of smoke spliced from archival photographs create a collage of upheaval.
From afar, the images in Jemima Wyman’s Haze series appear vibrant and expressive, but ultimately abstract. It is only upon closer inspection that the viewer is confronted with their source – documentary photographs of protests and conflicts from across the globe, spanning decades and interlocking the past and present in uncomfortable proximity.
Behind each photographic collage is months of labour – sourcing, archiving, cutting, organising and composing each image into meaningful dialogue with hundreds of others.
In Wyman’s works, colour is not simply a camouflage or allure. Red smoke is most recently associated with anti-reform protests in Paris, purple commonly seen in feminist protests and white plumes often the result of tear gas.
The centrepiece work in Wyman’s solo exhibition World Cloud at Sullivan+Strumpf is a celestial diamond-shaped collage. Cloud-shaped cutouts circle and expand outwards from a central point, organised by colour, then the chronology of events. It begins with ‘smoke bomb and smoke from fireworks used by anti-apartheid protestors during a rugby match between South Africa and a Victorian team, Melbourne, Australia, 8 July 1971’. The full title of the work runs about six pages – a testament to Wyman’s painstakingly meticulous process.
The exhibition brings together the multifaceted approaches Wyman has taken to her interest in these politicised acts of humanity and violence. Shown alongside the Haze series are their counterparts, Declassified, constructed from leftover clippings. The latter series thus becomes a revival of those images left out of the story.
In the series Distress, these disparate narratives become intertwined with the artist’s own. Colours bleed and seep out of their prescribed borders, the result of falling victim to frequent floods in Los Angeles, where Wyman, a palawa woman, is now predominantly based. Emotions of anger, hope and despair that may be present in these photos are now overshadowed by humanity’s shared anxiety about the climate.
In the gallery’s preview room are three of Wyman’s most recent works, revealing a new direction where the artist has taken her process into the public space of her neighbourhood park in LA. Uncanny to behold, Defaced superimposes photos from statues defaced during protests into a harmonious and leisurely outdoor setting.
World Cloud offers a powerful transcendence – be that into heaven or hell.
Jemima Wyman, World Cloud is on view at Sullivan+Strumpf Melbourne until 9 September; free.