Adderton: house & heart of mercy’s Curator, Dr Maria Quirk, is an historian of art and women’s history. A former University of Queensland Writing Fellow and recipient of the State Library of Queensland’s Q ANZAC 100 fellowship, Maria has previously worked on the teaching staff at the University of Queensland and at the Queensland Supreme Court and Fryer Libraries.
Today, Maria provides some insights into her role as Curator at Adderton: house & heart of mercy.
What do you do as Adderton: house & heart of mercy’s curator?
My role as curator at Adderton: house & heart of mercy is to develop exhibitions and digital programs that showcase the diverse stories and histories of the Sisters of Mercy Brisbane Congregation, and which explore different interpretations and facets of the Mercy values. All my projects are informed by my background in women’s and art history, and my interest in uncovering women’s stories.
What were your first impressions of Adderton?
Seeing the former All Hallows’ Convent building for the first time was memorable. I remember thinking it looked like a Victorian-era dolls’ house, or like a house from a fairy-tale. The building’s mix of restrained Georgian architecture and classic Queensland vernacular is unique and intriguing. Climbing the wooden stairs to the office on my first day, I imagined the hundreds of other women and girls who have traversed Adderton’s hallways over the past 160 years. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in such an important historical building and contribute to a new chapter in its story.
Do you have a favourite object in the Adderton: house & heart of mercy collection?
My favourite object is without a doubt the floral hair sculpture, made by Annie Casey (later Sister Mary Irenaeus) in the late 1890s from her own and her sister’s hair. I understand that the hair sculpture may seem strange or even eerie to the modern eye, but it’s a unique piece of material culture that represents Annie’s love for her sister and her family. It’s also a fantastic example of the popular nineteenth-century art of hairwork, and belongs to a long tradition of relics of familial devotion rendered in hair. You can read more about the Casey hairwork on the Our Working Hearts story platform.
What excites you the most about the Adderton: house & heart of mercy redevelopment?
Adderton: house & heart of mercy is not a traditional museum or an art gallery, and this means that everybody working on the Adderton redevelopment has the freedom to think outside of the square when it comes to our exhibitions and programming. We have the unique opportunity to re-imagine Adderton as a creative, multi-disciplinary space where the boundaries between history, social justice, art and community are blurred.
As curator at Adderton, I often think about what Jacques Derrida called the ‘archivisation of history’—the highly-gendered process by which certain objects, stories and ideas are preserved for posterity and others are not. At Adderton, I have the opportunity to challenge this process by telling stories that privilege women’s experiences, emotional states and achievements, and to do so on a site that is foundational to the history of women’s education in Queensland. There’s not much more a curator of women’s history could ask for.