Cook's sites

Hero or anti-hero? It’s an ongoing argument. This exhibition sheds some new light on the perennial question. An exhibition at the Museum of Sydney curated by Nicholas Thomas and featuring the photographs of Mark Adams.

Captain James Cook is commonly regarded as the greatest maritime explorer of all time. Revered by many, his voyages were indeed extraordinary. Cook’s voyages also inaugurated contact with indigenous peoples across the Pacific and Cook is now reviled by many as a colonizer whose arrival brought misery and disruption. It is however a profoundly more complex and contradictory story.

Using a magnificent series of large format photographs Cook’s Sites documents the places Cook came from and takes us on a tour of his discoveries that helped shape his own life and that of 18th century Britain.

These contemporary works evoke the places central to Cook’s life and voyages from the English port of Whitby where he began his sailing career, to the lava coasts and Hawaiian temples of spectacular Kealakekua Bay where he met his dramatic end. In between, we are taken to the remote and beautiful waters of Dusky Sound in New Zealand, the luxuriant Tahitian tropics, and the beaches of northern Australia, with many other stops along the way.

The exhibition features New Zealand photographer Mark Adams’s images with texts, documents and original ethnographic and scientific specimens that help to bring Cook’s momentous voyages to life. Curated by acclaimed writer and anthropologist Nicholas Thomas, the exhibition addresses this fascinating but disturbing history in an unexpected way. By using Adam’s photographs to present the past and question it, the thought provoking images show Cook’s ’sites’ to be multi-layered places with many associations that have accumulated over the past 230 years.

The images also capture much of today’s Cook commemoration in the form of statues, monuments and signposts prompting us to think about how ’history’ is made and packaged. The viewer is presented with genuinely conflicting perspectives allowing for personal judgments to be made of this historic period.

Including Indigenous perspectives into the exhibition, with works by Gordon Bennett, Brenda Croft’s photograph, Cook-oo, HJ Wedge’s Captain Cook Con Man and Adam Hill’s Bennelong Time, forms an interesting parallel view to that presented by the photographs.

Tour Schedule

NLA Canberra | 16 March - 18 June 2006
Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, Bathurst | 30 November 2006 - 29 January 2007
Museum of Brisbane | 23 February - 15 July 2007
Newcastle Library | 20 August - 23 September 2007
Lady Denman, Huskisson | 2 October - 29 November 2007
Eden Killer Whale Museum | 3 December 2007 - 27 February 2008
Albury Regional Museum | 23 May - 20 July 2008

20 August 2005 - 4 December 2005

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