‘Imaginary Encounters’ showcases creative prose and poetry written in response to the sculptural exhibition Everything is True, by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah. The exhibition was curated by Chris Malcolm for the John Curtin Gallery and Perth Festival 2021.
In February of 2021, a small group of Curtin University staff and postgraduate students were invited to visit the exhibition and respond through creative writing. A small selection of the resulting works are published here in an online format. Others have been included as a special feature in the print issue of Westerly, to be published towards the end of June.
There is a long tradition of creative writing in response to artworks. Traditionally, this practice of ‘ekphrasis’ involves the transcription of a viewer’s experience into a written account. Abdullah’s sculptures are especially well-suited to this contemplation of experience because they evoke an empathic connection with the viewer. We invite you, Westerly readers, to enter into these imaginary worlds. We hope you find them as stimulating and thought-provoking as we did.
The late February sunrise is as reluctant as my pace. In these early morning-minutes, I don’t need to know much.
I am walking my nearly-four-month-old Labrador—though not for too long, as I need to protect his hips; I need to make sure he sits before he crosses the street too, and that he doesn’t pull on his lead. But that’s all.
This little black puppy, who absorbs light in his fluffy, wavy coat, has made me wonder about my suburb. Two streets away, on a road I have driven every day for six years, he helped me discover a large tree trunk bound in ivy. As he sniffed, I tried to reach the tree with my fingers.
Before I reached the bark, I heard another, impatient and loud.
I arrived at the gallery with a list in my head; emails to attend, calls to make.
For your information. For your attention.
As per policy. As per my last email.
Please find attached.
I moved around as the exhibition was being installed. Walking through the new corridor, the dark offered guidance. Nothing was finished: art and hard hats, sculptures and measuring tape. The customary little white rectangle with information in soft font was not adjacent to each piece: how was I meant to know what it is, what it is made of, what it means?
As I began to leave, the shadows stopped me. Four shadows layered and moving along the wall despite the artwork remaining still. From one angle, they looked complete and solid; from another they offered a grey palette which was infinite and inviting.
I admired and felt without understanding. The suspension was comforting and confronting; releasing and revealing. Not knowing—not needing to know—was like a wind that wipes away a heavy humidity.
The puppy pulls as the sun rises.
There is another black dog across the street.
I make the puppy sit before we walk over to say hello. And as we cross the road I turn back and look at the tree, and at the way the shadow of it moves in the early light.
Danielle O’Leary is a lecturer in Professional Writing and Publishing at Curtin University.