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The Bathers

Date: 1989
Image: 765 x 925 mm
Sheet: 870 x 1140 mm
Display dimensions (Frame): 1040 x 1550 x 45 mm
Medium: C-type photograph, gloss paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Photograph
Object No: 00019000
Place Manufactured:Sydney

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    Anne Zahalka is one of Australia's leading contemporary photomedia artists. In her series 'Bondi: Playground of the Pacific', Zahalka toys with our nostalgia for the work of Australian artists Charles Meere and Freda Robertshaw, and photographer Max Dupain. In 'The Bathers' she focuses on Meere's iconic 1940s 'Australian Beach Pattern', photographically reinventing Meere's statuesque and supine figures of healthy, bronzed Australians in an artificial beach setting.
    SignificanceThis photograph from the 'Bondi: Playground of the Pacific' series is an important satirical and affectionate look at the Australian beach experience and our changing notions of the bronzed Australian hero and the anglo-celtic model of the nuclear family.
    HistoryIn the late 1980s Anne Zahalka appropriated images from old master paintings and iconic Australian paintings and photographs to critique them in her photographic works. In series such as 'Bondi: Playground of the Pacific' she translated familiar images into contemporary photomedia, asking us to look again at the scene and what it represents.

    Charles Meere's iconic 1940s 'Australian Beach Pattern', in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, has achieved a canonical status in the history of Australian art, promoting and celebrating a particular version of Australian national identity. Meere's painting is populated by well-toned bodies invested with a heroic character akin to classical gods and goddesses. In 1940 it served as a powerful expression of the Australian spirit before the ravages of World War II took hold.

    Zahalka includes the same compositional elements as seen in the Meere's painting, such as the deck chair, the beach ball and lilo, but replaces the neo-classical bronzed Australians and Anglo-Celtic nuclear family with a group made up of different cultural backgrounds. The bodies represented are realistically dissimilar from each other, in contrast to Meere's uniform Anglo-Celtic super-humans. Rather than being presented as 'national types' the people in Zahalka's photograph are multicultural, reflecting a later 20th century experience of Australian identity and beach culture.

    Posed in a studio setting carefully constructed to emulate a stereotypical beach scene, Zahalka has placed the beach ball throwing female figure from the Meere's work in a prominent position, in contrast to the focus of Meere's painting, which is well proportioned bronzed Australian male. Zahalka places the family in front of a painted beach further emphasising the constructed notion of the scene.
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