The descendants of Frederick McCubbin have thrown their support behind two protesters who allegedly desecrated one of the artist’s most famous and significant paintings.
A video released by activist group Disrupt Burrup Hub on Thursday showed a woman spray-painting a Woodside logo on McCubbin’s Down about his luck at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. She then appeared to glue her hand to the wall as a man unfurled an indigenous flag, made an acknowledgment of country and spoke about the oil and gas company’s “continued desecration of sacred Murujuga rock art”.
Woodside is expanding its operations on the Burrup Peninsula, more than 1,200 km north of Perth in the Pilbara region. The peninsula, known as Murujuga to the traditional owners, has the largest and oldest collection of petroglyphs, or petroglyphs, in the world.
Woodside’s industrial developments include fertilizer and gas plants, and planned expansions require the petroglyphs to be moved.
The 1889 McCubbin oil on canvas, valued at $3 million a decade ago, was protected by Perspex and remained undamaged.
The artist’s great-granddaughter, artist Margot Edwards, said on Friday that her famous relative would have liked the attention.
“He would have laughed out loud and supported this very clever protest, which did not harm his painting in any way and started an important conversation,” Edwards told the Guardian on Friday.
McCubbin’s great-great-grandson, Ned Reilly, said the incident served to highlight the work.
“If anything, it’s brought more attention to his painting and it’s getting a new generation to think about what it means in terms of Australian identity,” Reilly said.
Both descendants said they supported the actions of the two protesters, Perth ceramic artist and illustrator Joana Partyka and Ballardong Noongar man Desmond Blurton.
McCubbin’s descendants, who only learned of the incident when stories began appearing online Thursday, said the protesters were justified in their actions and that the McCubbin family itself has a long tradition of environmental activism.
“This action has brought a topic to the national conversation that is absolutely necessary for us to discuss regarding an ancient Aboriginal rock art site, one of the largest on the continent,” Edwards said.
“I believe that the Aboriginal custodians should be fully involved in that conversation and I’m just very excited that one of the custodians and an artist brought it to the national media. It is time we all looked at the Burrup and really took stock of what it is that is threatened here, because it is absolutely unique. It will never be recreated. It is an outdoor art gallery. And using AGWA and this painting by Fred McCubbin to bring light to that – we’re all talking about art, talking about the environment and that really excites me.”
Reilly said “the wanton destruction of the oldest art gallery in the world is the real crime here”.
“As a family of active and engaged artists and scientists, the statement made in this protest is entirely consistent with the McCubbin family’s rich legacy of using art to comment on pressing environmental issues,” he said. .
Police said Friday that a 37-year-old Northbridge woman has been charged with one count of criminal damage. She is due to appear in Perth Magistrates’ Court on February 16.