Judy Watson: experimental beds

  August 1, 2012 - August 31, 2013

  Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection



experimental beds was an exhibition of six prints by indigenous Australian artist Judy Watson (Waanyi) that was on view at the South Gallery of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture at UVA. Watson first visited the University of Virginia in October 2011 as an artist-in-residence at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection of Aboriginal Art at UVA. Inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s architectural drawings of the Academical Village, Watson developed a set of etchings in collaboration with Professor Dean Dass and Advanced Printmaking students in UVA’s print workshop. The resulting prints incorporate Jefferson’s drawings of the Rotunda and Pavilions, along with Watson’s sketches of artifacts unearthed at Monticello’s Mulberry Row and vegetables grown in Jefferson’s “experimental beds.” This print suite was co-published by the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at UVA, Basil Hall Editions, the artist and grahame-galleries + editions in Brisbane. See our publications page to view photos of the each work in the suite.

These etchings were co-published by Kluge-Ruhe and are currently for sale. Please contact the museum for details.


Judy Watson has visited Kluge-Ruhe three times, first in 2009 as part of Culture Warriors: National Indigenous Art Triennial, when she saw Thomas Jefferson’s architectural drawings in the exhibition Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village: The Creation of an Architectural Masterpiece. She returned to Kluge-Ruhe in 2011 for an artist residency sponsored by UVA Arts Council. At this time, Watson toured Monticello with historian Leni Sorenson, who pointed out Jefferson’s “experimental beds”—gardens where he experimented with seeds and plants from around the world to assess their adaptability to Virginia’s climate—which gave her the title of her work. But the title also alludes to Jefferson’s long-term relationship with the enslaved woman Sally Hemings. The union between a white man and a black woman was one of many parallels that Watson identified between her own Aboriginal family and the enslaved people in Jefferson’s household. Watson incorporated Jefferson’s architectural drawings of the Academical Village and her own sketches of artifacts unearthed at Monticello’s Mulberry Row and vegetables grown in Jefferson’s “experimental beds” in a suite of six etchings. After returning to Australia, she worked with printer Basil Hall to edition experimental beds, which was co-published by Kluge-Ruhe, the artist and grahame galleries + editions in Brisbane. Watson returned to Charlottesville in 2013 to present her Ted talk on experimental beds at TedX Charlottesville.

The success of experimental beds inspired Judy Watson to a related project with objects at the British Museum in 2015, which resulted in a suite of etchings titled holes in the land.

I examine the past to inform the present, recognizing the frozen spirits in the land. I think it is important to challenge accepted stereotypes of Aboriginal people and it is necessary for true understanding to know the concealed history of Australia.



Judy Watson is a Waanyi artist who lives and works in Brisbane. She holds degrees from the University of Southern Queensland, the University of Tasmania and Monash University, and her artwork is held in private and public collections major institutions around the world. Sje co-represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1997. Her practice, which includes painting, printmaking, drawing, sculpture and video, is inspired by Aboriginal history and culture. It is often concerned with collective memory and uses archival documents to unveil institutionalized discrimination against Aboriginal people.



Related Content


Judy Watson: “experimental beds” by Noreen Grahame