‘Skullcap’ honours Australian servicemen – QAGOMA Blog


In 2013 Shirley Macnamara began to make skullcaps, reminiscent of a customary funerary practice for some Aboriginal women where their heads were plastered with white clay or burnt gypsum to form a cap, covering their hair completely. The wearing of this cap could extend for some time after a death, with successive coatings making it heavy and uncomfortable for the widow or female relative of the deceased.

In Skullcap 2013 (illustrated), Macnamara doesn’t attempt to imitate the caps found in museum collections, rather, she intends to honour Aboriginal men who represented Australia in two world wars, never to return to their loved ones. She hopes to ensure that Aboriginal soldiers are no longer forgotten. Skullcap is made from rich, red ochre and is covered with emu feathers, which allude to those used to decorate Australian soldiers’ uniform hats (illustrated).

Macnamara lives outside Mt Isa in North West Queensland where she runs a thriving cattle property with her son, and is also immersed in her family’s cultural and political research.

RELATED WORKS IN THE COLLECTION: ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the soldiers in those forces became known as ANZACs. Anzac Day is a commemoration of the anniversary of the landing of those troops at Gallipoli, Turkey on 25 April in 1915 / 11 November is Remembrance Day, the memorial day observed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month since the end of the First World War in 1918 to honour those who have died in the line of duty.

Shirley Macnamara ‘Skullcap’

Shirley Macnamara, Indjalandji/Alyawarr, Australia b.1949  / Skullcap 2013 / Spinifex (Triodia pungens), red ochre, emu feathers, spinifex resin and synthetic polymer fixative / 14 x 21cm (diam.) / Purchased 2014 with funds from Gina Fairfax through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art  / © Shirley Macnamara

Light Horse slouch hat with emu plume

Light Horse slouch hat with emu plume, First World War / Accession Number: RELAWM17393B / Image courtesy: Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.

It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs on the QAGOMA Blog are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.


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