These arrangements show the plants contorted into obedience, just as colonization sought to control and claim our natural world and fellow species, and suppress indigenous and women’s botanic expertise. Now, we find ourselves at the brink of irreversible biodiversity loss and climate change, living in the era of the Anthropocene. Shelton’s work provokes us to consider not only humanity’s relentless depletion of the natural world, but the role women will play in a regenerative future.
Before coming up with the detailed concept for this work, I had been reading a book by Margaret Sparrow, the trailblazing women’s health activist and founder of Family Planning New Zealand (our equivalent of your Planned Parenthood) on the history of abortion in colonial New Zealand. The book foregrounded colonial women’s experiences and their loss of life, mostly through historical research, obituaries, advertising, police reports, etc. It unpacked and chronicled the concoctions sold for ‘women’s problems’, the risks women took, and the consequences of botched attempts at birth control and abortion through desperate and illegal means. So the thinking around the work comes from and engages body politics and reproductive rights. It is made with this whole area of discourse, legal, experiential, and otherwise, front of mind.
This set off a train of thought that engaged several existing research areas, trauma, violence, a critique of conventional gender positions, and my interest in confounding and complicating contemporary Western culture’s rigid interpretation of what plants are, what they are capable of and what they are for.
Photo of Ann Shelton first published in Art Collector Magazine, Australia, Photo: Bonny Beattie
Themes in Shelton’s work frequently pivot around aspects of forgotten or suppressed knowledge, instances where female experiences and actions have been overlooked or deemed socially unacceptable or transgressive, or where traumas experienced by women have, through the work, been offered focused attention, and research-engaged investigation.
With The Super Model image I was interested in manipulation of the female body, of youth, that veneer and the way that’s become so valued in society. And photography is complicit in that. Photography has played a role in transforming our relationship to what we see; and seeing things has become this central and valued, too valued, aspect of our lives.
Photography is a bit of a bitch. It has been a willing accomplice in this whole imperialist project. Photography, of course, is imperialist by its very nature, tied to colonising and capitalist technological development. But photography can also be used against imperialist ideology. It has an agency and a power that does not necessarily come from where you would expect, and it can be wielded in unique and emancipatory ways.