Jacqui Stockdale's new body of work The Quiet Wild is beguilingly uncanny. In her peculiarly entrancing photographs, expertly hand painted backdrops help to frame mask-holding sitters whose skins have been decorated with animalistic patterns. Reminding us of colonial postcards reflecting a John Glover aesthetic, the images are infused with a nostalgic quality. And yet, all are executed in high-definition, where each stroke of paint stands as obvious as the contemporary nature of Stockdale's staged portraiture.

There is a strong personal element too, as the chosen Australian settings reference her own background, depicting parts of her mother's property in Bendigo and the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, amongst others. This collapse of photography and painting is not new, but the invented subject matter is certainly unique.

Lagunta Man Leeawuleena is a striking image, deserving of its place as finalist in the 2012 Josephine Ulrick and Win Scubert Photography Award. Here, a broad-necked beast of a man stands confidently upright, bearing tribalistic marks as he cradles a rare mask collected by the artist during her nomadic adventures. Originally used in the dances of the Mexican Carnival, it too develops an aura of its own.

In other examples, pink-painted children inhabit masks, posing for reasons unknown. Their purpose there is left intentionally ambiguous, but ultimately fantastically fictional. At the heart of this kind of cultural mish-mash is an inherent exhibitionism that pervades all cultures, as confronting as it is absorbing.

Stockdale's process is clear: “This new work responds to established portrayals of human identity and masquerade, informed by my research into different aspects of folk carnivals where the masquerades are a fusion of clandestine voodoo, ancestral memory and personal revelation ritual and performance.”

Here, we relish the artist's musings where “man becomes woman, child becomes adult, animals transform into humans.” This is anthropomorphism for a modern age.

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The Quiet Wild opens tonight (April 18) at Helen Gory Gallery and runs until May 19.