Visual Arts: Tracksuits of St Marys


Photographs by Harold David


8-29th August

Now call me a fashion yuppie, but when it comes to trackies, I’m not the biggest of fans. I say this now, even as I remember somewhat vividly, that day in high school were I promised from then on, I would wear nothing else. Comfort first, I said – but something changed.

What that was I still couldn’t put my finger on, though upon recently visiting Carriageworks photographic exhibition Tracksuits of St Marys, the time had come for a reevaluation. No longer could I deny those broken promises, those unfulfilled years of discomfort and smart-casual. There was no better time than now, to re-embrace the tracksuit.

Unlike my own frivolity, Tracksuits of St Marys explored the seemingly un-faltering embrace of the tracksuit over its many years. Tracing the garment’s history (and its significance) back to the ‘Black Power salute’ of the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, Penrith Regional Gallery’s senior curator, Victoria Harbutt along with Australian fashion and portrait photographer Harold David, worked to illustrate the longstanding versatily and vitality of the trackuit against this contextual backdrop.

Developed as a Western Sydney community project, David spent the good part of two years photographing and getting to know the citizens of St Marys, as well as investigating the tracksuit as a symbol that transcended fashion, class, age and ethnicity. And my, oh my, what a nice looking bunch of photos that resulted.

Exhibited in the main foyer of Carriageworks, the central focus was on the monumental cluster of photographs of the people of St Mary’s, which were complemented, rather beautifully with images of the three athletes involved in the 1968 Mexico Olympics salute. On the left-hand-side the photographs showed the young Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Peter Norman as they raced, and later at the eventful medal ceremony. On the right-hand-side, the photographs (mostly courtesy of Jan Norman) explored life after the Olympics – the three together decades later, an image of Norman at home, and finally, Smith and Carlos as they were pallbearers for Norman’s early funeral in 2006. These images, as well as those on the left-hand-side were exhibited linearly, and truly set the grounds for a much deeper appreciation of the subject at hand. To conclude the right-hand sequence, Harbutt chose to display the American Track and Field Proclamation of ‘Peter Norman day’, which was both moving and unforgettable, especially as it was exhibited alongside the previous image of Norman’s passing.

All in all, the stills taken by David were both luminous and resonant, conjuring feelings of nostalgia, empathy, and understanding for those people we feel that we could know, but do not. Upon viewing one of the larger images of schoolchildren in their tracksuit winter uniforms, I recalled with some haziness that part of my childhood that had been lost amongst my other, newer memories – a thought that saddenned me a little. Where had those days gone, that I spent running with my friends? Or that life I’ve not made time for, in which I’d slow down, stay in my trackies, and drink tea at home?

You will love this if: you continue to wear your tracksuits with pride.

You will hate this if: the last time you wore a tracksuit was your last school PE day.

Tracksuits of St Marys ran at Carriageworks from the 8th-29th August.

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