A Preponderance of Aboriginal BloodJudy Watson
A 44-page hard-back artist book printed offset in an edition of 1,000 and launched at the State Library of Queensland on 20 February 2020.
a preponderance of aboriginal blood is an artist’s book confronting the history of official and legal discrimination against Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland. It was commissioned by the State Library of Queensland in 2005 for the exhibition sufferance: women’s artists’ books to celebrate the centenary of women’s voting rights in Queensland. Its sixteen sheets present copies of electoral enrolment statutes from the Queensland State Archives, which classified whether a person was a ‘full-blood Aborigine’ (and therefore not entitled to vote) or a ‘half-caste’ (entitled to vote). The title, a preponderance of aboriginal blood, refers to Aboriginality on both sides of the family and, at that time, was acceptable legal terminology used to deny Aboriginal people their right to vote. Full voting rights were not granted to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in Queensland until 1965. Watson first heard the term a preponderance of aboriginal blood in a lecture given by Loris Williams and Margaret Reid on voting rights for Indigenous Queensland people in 2005. The lecture compelled her to make the work.
The archival material that Watson has extracted is inextricably intertwined with the devastating social, physical and emotional impacts that it has had on generations of Australians. Degrees of blood were the measure by which the Queensland Government sanctioned discrimination against Aboriginal people, so Watson overlays copies of the official departmental documentation with etched ink stains resembling blood. The stains manifest the operations by which the state manipulated definitions and categories of race to its own political ends, while also embodying the pain and suffering of people denied their human rights.
For Watson, the ‘beautiful and old fashioned’ aesthetic of the archival texts belie their ‘horrible content’, designed to control Aboriginal people and deny them the civil rights extended to the rest of the population. Layering the archival records of individuals who are documented in terms of their ‘preponderance of Aboriginal blood’ with the inked traces of that blood brings together the personal and the political in a manner that is more than a glib statement – it makes no bones about the systematic and official discrimination that underlies Australian history and the experience of generations of Aboriginal Australians.