‘And Perhaps, in the Corner, a Lubra’ How the Exhibition An Englishman’s Home Sought to Define an Australian Identity

  • Abstract:

    As Richard White explains in Inventing Australia, a “national identity is continually being fractured, questioned and redefined.” During the interwar years, a new national consciousness emerged in response to Australia’s war effort and proud imperial loyalty. This new perspective questioned Australia’s identity and, in particular, its relationship with Britain. On an artistic level, Australian artists in the 1920s and 1930s re-envisaged Australia as a modern, grown‐up and independent nation that had broken away from British cultural influence, thereby contributing to the making of a new image of Australian identity. This idea was recently addressed through the exhibition Sydney Modern: Art for a New World (2013) held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Most importantly, the exhibition shed light on the central role of interior design and exhibitions of decorative art, more specifically the Burdekin House Exhibition (1929), in developing ideas about Australian taste, identity and culture at the time. Focusing on the case study of the exhibition An Englishman’s Home organised by Clarice Zander and held in Sydney in 1941, this paper will consider how this exhibition explored notions of an Australian past and cultural heritage in order to define its national identity. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how Zander’s 1941 exhibition can be construed not only as a vehicle for modern taste, but also as a primary means of defining Australia’s national identity, more particularly within the frame of its identification with Britain. This paper addresses Australia’s cultural ties with Britain, modernism, the role of exhibitions, the decorative arts and national identity.