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– Ken Whisson's Full Bodied Baby

Posted on Sept. 28, 2012 in Artist and curator Interviews.

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Left: Ken Whisson, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, 5/8/02, 19/2/03, oil on linen, James and Jacqui Erskine Collection, Sydney, © the artist, photograph: Tristan Deratz Centre: Ken Whisson, The Palm-Wine Drinkard: The Chief’s Daughter and the Baby Whose Name is Zurrjir, 19/2/04, 29/2/04, 3/5/04, oil on linen, Robin Greer Collection, Brisbane, © the artist, photograph: Tristan Deratz Right: Ken Whisson, The Full-Bodied Baby, 4th Version, 08/6/04, 10/9/07, 12/1/08, oil on linen, courtesy the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, photograph: Tristan Deratz

Co-curated by the MCA’s Glenn Barkley and Heide Museum’s Lesley Harding, Ken Whisson: As If is a major retrospective by one of Australia’s greatest artists, Ken Whisson.

Among the many works in the show, there is one series inspired by a book Ken Whisson read titled The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town by Amos Tutuola.

The book, a delightful piece of fantasy literature, tells the tale of a man addicted to palm wine who one day finds out about the death of his palm wine tapster and decides to venture into the world of the dead to retrieve him – because no palm wine tapster means no access to his beloved palm wine. Many bizarre things happen to or around him along the way. One scene in particular describes how a full bodied baby sprouts from a woman’s injured and swelling thumb.

It is this passage that inspired Ken Whisson to create the four paintings displayed together in the galleries and shown here above and below:

I spent three years with him in that town, but during that time, I was tapping palm-wine for myself, of course I couldn’t not tap it to the quantity that I required to drink; my wife was also helping me to carry it from the farm to the town. When I completed three and a half years in that town, I noticed that the left hand thumb of my wife was swelling out as if it was a buoy, but it did not pain her. One day, she followed me to the farm in which I was tapping the palm-wine, and to my surprise when the thumb that swelled out touched a palm-tree thorn, the thumb bust out suddenly and there we saw a male child came out of it and at the same time that the child came out of the thumb, he began to talk to us as if he was ten years of age.

Extract from Amos Tutuola, The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town, Faber and Faber Limited, London, p.31.

Ken Whisson: As If runs 28 September to 25 November 2012 in the Level 3 Galleries.

Posted by Kelly Stone

To find out more about the MCA exhibition, visit the webpage

Ken Whisson also has an exhibition at Niagara Galleries that runs 2 October-3 November 2012. To find out more, visit their website

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Ken Whisson, The Palm-Wine Drinkard: The Drinkard and the Full Bodied Baby, 13/3/04, 26/3/04, 4/4/04, oil on linen, James and Jacqui Erskine Collection, Sydney, © the artist, photograph: Tristan Deratz