‘Return’ by Freya Jobbins | Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, until 19 July

A mother’s love and her ability to protect her children in the face of all adversity creates a powerful temple of strength and resilience within her. It is inevitable though, that a time will come when a mother must put down her protective shield and set her children on their own path. But some journeys, like the uncertain passage of war, brings fear and inner turmoil into the hearts and minds of mothers, as it has for Australian artist Freya Jobbins.

Freya Jobbins, David’s Mask, 2017, pigment print on cotton rag paper. Courtesy the artist and Wagga wagga Art Gallery, New South Wales

Jobbins is a multi-disciplinary artist who explores the visceral sensitivities and psychological vulnerabilities of the human experience, including her own. She visualises the intricacies of her perceptions through her artistic practice with unique sculpture, assemblage and installation works, which she creates using sliced up dolls and other recycled plastic toys, as well as making collaged works on paper.

For her latest exhibition ‘Return’, Jobbins brings a powerful series of works together that portray her own deeply personal journey as a mother seeing her son go to war, twice. Each time, waiting for his safe return and coping with the inevitable aftermath of both their experiences. Created during the last eight years since her son David returned from Afghanistan, these works reflect on the complex issues of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide and guilt.

Jobbins responds to the guilt that she and other mothers felt when their sons arrived home safe from war, when others didn’t, with a tribute to 41 soldiers who died in Afghanistan, which is presented in the largest work in the exhibition titled Someone’s Son. It features 41 linocut images of David with each one memorialised with the first name of one of the 41 fallen soldiers.

Freya Jobbins, Thread Series #3, 2018, photomontague, thread on copy paper. Courtesy the artist and Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, New South Wales

In a series of collaged self-portraits made with torn images sewn back together with gleaming gold thread, Jobbins speaks to audiences in a visual language that tries to explain her own struggles to repair and overcome difficulties as a PTSD sufferer. We see portraits of three veterans David, Bobby and Dave who in the artist’s words “allowed me into their memories to show their present” in Thread Series No 4. The installation work titled Wait invites audiences to sit on the bench that Jobbins waited on for her son to come home. Folded neatly on it are David’s uniform, and a book made in 2014, containing 239 representations of ADF soldiers who took their own lives since returning home.

With these works and the others in the show Jobbins says, “I acknowledge personal truths, and the silent and secretive understandings of unquestionable permanent bonds, then acceptance of choice and the release of my responsibility, and closure.” She hopes her “honest, raw, unsettling and realistic” works will give cause to ignite conversation about mental health within Australia’s defence forces and across the wider-reaching community.

Finding ways to cope during the immensely difficult times was hard and one of the many struggles Jobbins faced was the overwhelming awareness that she was unable to protect her son. She had no choice but to hand the responsibility of keeping her son alive to the soldiers who fought beside him, while acknowledging that their mothers too would ask the same duties of her son. “My survival mechanism is acknowledgement, sectioning information, suppressing and editing memories, avoiding triggers, and distract from the subject. Then move on,” says Jobbins.

Wagga Wagga Art Gallery is open to the public with safe Covid-19 measures in place. Visit the website for gallery opening times and the upcoming exhibition program. Click here to watch a walk through video presentation of ‘Return’ with Freya Jobbins, and to read more about the exhibition.