some responses to the storm...
the art world
The best-known immediate reactions were those made by Djon Mundine, Aboriginal Art consultant and Edmund Capon, Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Their comments are quoted in McCulloch and Morrison articles referred to below.
Edmond Capon said: ‘Burrup’s entry in the Sulman Prize will be judged on its merits not on who painted it...' But once alerted to the repercussions of selecting a painting by Eddie Burrup, it was not difficult for the sole Sulman judge to drop the Burrup entry.
News and arts stories generally followed the line of the media release. Great play was made of an elderly female assuming an Aboriginal identity. As well, the stories included a brief background about the pioneering Durack family, Elizabeth’s position within it, her reputation as an established artist, her life as Eddie Burrup. With very few exceptions, the tone of the media was partisan.
Various arts industry groups hastily gathered to discuss ‘the scandal’. They met in Townsville and Canberra and sought legal advice. Since such meetings were by invitation only, records may or may not exist of proceedings. In reality, the flurry of indignation was an extraordinary compliment to the power of the art produced by one, lone, old artist — Eddie Burrup.
On March 12 in The Sydney Morning Herald a different voice was heard — that of arts writer and critic, John McDonald, who said:
‘...the Eddie Burrup pictures represent an extraordinary creative leap for an artist in the twilight of her career. They sum up a lifetime’s experience of Aboriginal people and have been made with such consummate skill that they fooled experts in the field. If the invention of Eddie Burrup was psychologically necessary for the creation of these paintings, instead of attacking Durack’s morals, perhaps we should admire her artistic ingenuity...’
John McDonald 'Durack: let's look at the big picture' Sydney Morning Herald March 12 1997
Elizabeth Durack herself on March 10, two days after the media release, had written to a friend:
Thank you for your letter just received — apropos the current furore regarding the Elizabeth Durack/Eddie Burrup crossover.
I was assured that by taking the initiative in this matter I would be safe from the chance of being ‘exposed’ by possibly antagonistic or ignorant outsiders.
As things have turned out the story that appeared in the March issue of Art Monthly has not protected me from the latter.
Under these circumstances I intend to remain silent and to let what my whole life, both as regards my Art and human relationships generally have stood for, to speak for themselves.
Elizabeth Durack and Eddie Burrup have no intention of going on the defensive about what has occurred between them. It is a private matter.
We may change this course of action over the ensuing weeks but for the present we plan to ride out this unseasonal storm.
It will die down.
Life is short — media interest likewise — Art is long...
By mid-year Elizabeth Durack was prepared to speak to the media.
‘What’s the Fuss?’ by arts writer and historian Susan McCulloch appeared in The Weekend Australian magazine of July 5–6 1997. It was a well-researched and balanced article that explored the implications of imposing a rigid ideology on artistic expression. It did not particularly please members of the arts industry.
Susan McCulloch 'What's the fuss?' The Weekend Australian Magazine, Sydney, July 5-6 1997
One way and another the story played out for much of 1997. And since then it has often re-surfaced. Today the many facets of The Art of Eddie Burrup continue to unravel — one of the most recent being an airing given to the issue in Westerly eds Delys Bird & Dennis Haskell, Westerly Centre, University of WA, Vol 54: 1 July 2009.
Louise Morrison 'The Art of Eddie Burrup' Westerly, 1 July 2009
Ted Snell 'The Fantasist: Elizabeth Durack and Eddie Burrup' Westerly, 1 July 2009
Perpetua Durack Clancy 'Eddie Burrup – A Daughter’s View' Westerly, 1 July 2009
The public at large, via letters to newspaper editors and talkback radio, was variously fascinated or bemused by the Eddie Burrup affair. Most applauded;
a few were angry.