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Manuwangku: Under the Nuclear Cloud

Photographer Jagath Dheerasekara captures ordinary lives with an uncertain future.
By Zacha Rosen
January 23, 2012
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Manuwangku: Under the Nuclear Cloud

Photographer Jagath Dheerasekara captures ordinary lives with an uncertain future.
By Zacha Rosen
January 23, 2012
  shares

Manuwangku: Under the Nuclear Cloud is a political exhibition. Photographed by Jagath Dheerasekara to draw attention to (and oppose) a likely nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory in an area known as 'Manuwangku' to its traditional owners. The ingredients are here for a breathtaking landscape photographs — sweeping vistas of red sunlight, green spinifex and figures on the move. But this is not a picturesque exhibition. Instead, it follows a theme developed by the contemporary Sydney Festival — ordinary lives of ordinary people, made extraordinary when brought to Sydney audiences.

These theoretically dramatic elements are photographed with a documentary eye by Dheerasekara, who lets them frame a window into the everyday. A quiet pink house sits with its dusty 4WD at rest, a woman paints in dots across an art table (not unlike Pine St's own classrooms), a man half awake, rises to the edge of his bed and seems to wink at us over his boots. In one photo a child looks up from the table where his mum reads the paper, while in another  a cigarette, a television and a perky lapdog take a quiet moment.

If not for their location and their indigenous subjects, the photos could easily be mistaken for fifties kitch, filled as they are with shopping trips, old cars and a catalogue of the domestic. But in documenting this every day life, Dheerasekara mixes a sense of threat into quiet moments. The spectre of a nuclear future is explicit only in one image, but it hangs over the rest, imbuing ordinary moments with a sense of impending loss. And this is what gives this exhibition pull. Whether lured here by the politics of nuclear waste, or attracted to a well-framed glimpse into distant, ordinary things, there is enough to satisfy either visitor.

The Pine Street showing of Manuwangku: Under the Nuclear Cloud is now finished, but the exhibition is being restaged at Customs House May 4 to July 8, 2012 as part of the Head On Photo Festival. More details on the show are available here.

Photo by Jagath Dheerasekara. Note: Pine Street Gallery is not wheelchair accessible.

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