When Lieutenant James Cook set sail on the first of three voyages to the South Seas in 1768, he carried with him secret orders from the British Admiralty to seek the Great South Land and take possession of it, ‘in the Name of the King of Great Britain’. Nearly two years later, on 29 April 1770, he disembarked on Dharawal Country, also now known as Kurnell, on the southern headland of Botany Bay. In the grand narrative of white Australia, Cook’s landing is heralded as the point at which the nation’s history ‘officially’ begins: the moment of ‘discovery’ and first step towards the foundation of a Greater Britain in a Southern World.
Widely reproduced and circulated, this story of Cook is deeply etched in Australia’s collective consciousness. Yet its neat and decisive formulation of the nation’s genesis is problematic. On one hand, the continent had been long ‘discovered’ and inhabited by the time of Cook’s arrival. On the other, the Eurocentric and linear narrative of Australian history that starts with Cook, smooths over the complexities of the nation’s recent past, with the effect of silencing the perspectives and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples before, during and after his expedition.
In the hold explores these themes by presenting works from the late twentieth century through to today, by visual artists – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – who challenge prevailing versions of Australian historiography. These artists defy traditional representations of Cook as a cultural and historical luminary and unsettle the reductive colonial discourse that follows Cook’s advent. Through their work, the artists give voice to Indigenous sovereignty, overturning the myth of peaceful British settlement and exposing the devastating and lasting consequences of colonialism. In ways that are brazen, complex and compelling, Cook is re-imagined, re-presented and re-cast as a contested figure – an anti-hero emblematic of dispossession and desecration.
Engaging in a dialogue concerning Australian symbolism and space, and the enduring grip of Cook in the nation’s collective imagination, In the hold counters the commemoration and memorialisation of his landing 250 years ago. The exhibition pays tribute instead to those who have enabled us to see Cook in an alternate light by deconstructing and disrupting forms of representation that venerate his achievement. In doing so, In the hold contemplates our collective responsibility to our histories and how we grapple with their meanings and effects in the present day.