"I have tried to capture feelings about Australia, but also about children and their eternal vulnerability in both the natural and social orders." —Polixeni Papapetrou
After traveling overseas in 2004, Polixeni Papapetrou returned home to Australia, yearning for her native landscape. A visit to the bush culminated in the Haunted Country series. Fueled by her own childhood experience of being lost in the woods near the Lake Eidon district on a summer school holiday, the artist researched accounts of lost children in Australia's rugged environs. As she states, "The figure of the bush-lost child is one of the most poignant themes in Australia's cultural remembering. My desire was to create photographs that embodied the harrowing psychological aspects of these stories. I wanted to draw the viewer into this emotional space, experience the undercurrent of the psychological drama unfolding, and make connections between past and present consciousness about land and country."
The landscape remains a constant in this series. The artist describes the land as "inspiring, ancient, uncontactable, not completely owned." Accordingly, the pictures comment upon the Aboriginal culture's loss of land at the hands of European occupation, and how the newly settled white people came to view the land as hostile, as well as their continual sense of rootlessness to the land today. Further, she uses the metaphor of the bush-lost child to reflect upon other ways that "children become lost to adults."
Staged in natural environments at sites in Victoria where children were lost, the works titled The Wimmera 1864 are based on the story of Jane Duff and her two brothers, Isaac and Frank, who were lost in the western district of Victoria in 1864. The children were lost for nine days until they were found by an Aboriginal tracker. It is this account that is the basis for this beautiful pigment-ink photograph, which was printed for the artist by the master printer Les Walkling in Australia.
Polixeni Papapetrou originally trained as a lawyer, graduating with a BA/LLB, University of Melbourne in 1984. In 1997, she graduated with a Master of Arts, (Media Arts), RMIT University and in 2007 with a PhD, Monash University, where she currently holds the position of Adjunct Research Fellow. She lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.