While the word authenticity is overused (and often abused), it is a vital ingredient in creating a home filled with art that feels real. Margaret Hancock Davis is a Sydney-based curator whose personal collection of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait art, other contemporary visual arts, craft and design reflects her own life experience and values.
As part of her role as Curator: Collections and Cultural Program at Western Sydney University, Hancock Davis’ job is to look at diverse artforms across the visual arts, but also film, music, dance and poetry, a diversity that is also reflected in her own personal taste. “I’m a huge consumer of art across artforms,” she says. “I go to plays, contemporary music, orchestral music, exhibitions — I can’t think of a world without it.”
Many of her artworks are the result of a life lived so closely entwined with art and artists. During her previous role as Curatorial Director of the JamFactory, a craft and design centre in Adelaide, she often bought works made by the artists whose shows she curated. In particular Hancock Davis formed a close relationship with the artists at the ceramics studio at Ernabella Arts in Pukutja. “I worked with the artists from Ernabella Arts throughout the seventeen years I was at JamFactory, which was more than one generation of artists.” Her works by Kunmanara Carroll, Nura Rupert and Tjimpuna Willams are the result of this close connection.
Other works in Hancock Davis’ collection speak to her values and beliefs. Paul Sloan’s painting Ramasee Ma Merde (Karl’s Cat), 2020 is an image of a fluffy white cat looking imperiously down from an ornate plinth. The title ramasee ma merde actually translates to pick up my shit — here humour highlights the serious issue of wealth disparity in our culture via Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, which is reported to have inherited part of his fortune. “Supposedly this is the world’s richest cat,” explains Hancock Davis. “It’s humorous but it’s also a dig. Why did that money go to the cat? That money could have done so much good.”
Another work reflecting Hancock Davis’ values is by visual artists and musician Kim Gordon. A huge fan of her work as a musician, Hancock Davis contacted the US gallery representing Gordon to have this lithograph sent to Australia. In huge letters, it simply states “this is not illegal”. The work was created around the same time as the huge women’s marches where women wore pussy hats. Gordon herself marched carrying the banner reading “white corporate male oppression” a line from Sonic Youth’s Kool Thing. “You’d think, as a curator, I’d be looking for things that are going to be big and make money, but really I buy things I have a connection to, people I’ve worked with, stories that really resonate with me and excite me.”
Contemporary jewellery is another area of collection for Hancock Davis, who enjoys it when people ask where she bought her jewellery so she can share stories about the works. Several of her pieces are made from found materials, or evoke the profound beauty of nature, thereby carrying an environmental message. “I’m very lucky to own a Lola Greeno necklace,” she says of the Tasmanian Aboriginal artist whose works are made from the sustainable cultural practice of collecting shells from the beaches. “Contemporary jewellery is a fantastic area to collect in,” adds Hancock Davis. “It’s not necessarily expensive but you get this incredible diversity of works and stories and content. It’s something I really encourage young collectors to look into and get excited by.”