These paintings reference the stick-charts of the Marshall Islands, which were used by Indigenous communities to navigate the sea. The precise way of employing these charts was lost with colonisation however. While commonly understood today to have been a type of maps that marked the positions of islands, patterns of swell, and disturbances in the water, it is believed that these objects were much more complex than paper maps. Firstly, they were not to be taken aboard during voyages but rather memorised in advance by the sailors, creating an embodied form of knowledge, substantially different from the one carried by paper maps, always at the disposal of a coloniser’s finger. Secondly, rather than depicting a presumed realistic geography at scale, the stick charts seem to have largely functioned as memory aids for algorithms of analysing changes in stellar positions, passage of time, wind and wave swells.
Boyd’s paintings’ execution is reminiscent of modern Australian Aboriginal paintings, where dots have often been employed to hide rather than reveal to the uninitiated subjects of the works, which often represent ancestral lands and paths of circulation on them.
Through these paintings, Daniel Boyd, who is of Australian Indigenous heritage, as well as a descendant of a Vanuatu slave forcibly taken to Australia, alludes to the many modes of moving on land and sea that existed in the Pacific region. These forms of navigational knowledge were erased by colonisation and replaced by the unidirectional model of the map, used primarily as an instrument of control.
The artist’s participation is made possible with support from Australia Council of the Arts.