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Kate Murphy

Prayers of a Mother  1999

multi-channel digital video, colour, sound

14min 27s

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2007

2007.6

About the Artwork

Prayers of a Mother records the faces of eight children listening to their mother as she prays for each of them. The installation consists of five video projections and one audio track. The central projection is an edited sequence of the artist’s mother’s hands holding her prayer book and rosary beads. Surrounding this central image are four screens depicting Murphy and her seven siblings as they listen silently to their mother. Their faces reveal responses from empathy to humour, surprise and sadness, as their mother recounts her private hopes for their health and happiness. The viewer hears the mother’s voice invoking the help of saints like St Martha, who is prayed to on behalf of a son ‘to help him do his share of the housework’. Here we witness one mother’s devotion to her family and religion, and we learn of her passionate desire for her children to one day return to the Catholic faith.

Dealing with family relationships, religion and changing social roles, Prayers of a Mother was inspired by the documentary film genre and was created in Murphy’s final year at the Canberra School of Art. In her videos, Murphy’s friends and family discuss their lives, thoughts and interests, and she presents herself in a range of roles: as an artist, friend, daughter and sister. In some works, Murphy extends the idea of formal portraiture by allowing her sitters to interact by holding the camera and making parallel recordings from their point of view; the resultant works raise questions about perspective, authorship and control.

I am interested in the interplay between portraiture and the various forms of documentary including film and TV documentary, reality TV and the home video. I choose as my subjects people who I believe have a unique story or perspective to share with an audience. I create single and multi-channel video installations exploring a multiplicity of viewpoints; that of the subject, the camera, the observer, the viewer, and examine how these unfold in video portraiture.

Kate Murphy, n.d.

VIDEO: Kate Murphy interviewed on MCA Collection works

Kate Murphy's powerful work Prayers of a Mother (1999) was a family affair. Her seven siblings and mother got behind the camera in this video work which explores Catholicism in a contemporary context.

Kate Murphy

– About the artist

Born 1977, Queanbeyan, New South Wales. Lives and works Sydney.


Kate Murphy’s video practice examines the interplay between portraiture and various forms of documentary including TV and film documentary, reality TV and the home video camera. Through her single- and multi-channel video installations she explores the relationship between her subject, the camera, the observer and the viewer.

Murphy’s first solo exhibition, Britney Love, was held in 2000 at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, following a residency there. Other solo exhibitions include The note, BREENSPACE, Sydney (2010); Cry Me a Future, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra (2009); Prayers of a Mother, Glasshouse, Port Macquarie (2009); Rehearsal (for Saint Vitus), Virgin Mary Church, Dublin (2007); and Placing the Camera, Performance Space, Sydney (2005). Murphy has exhibited nationally and internationally, including Here’s the Tender Coming (WHOOPEE) We’re all Going to Die, Pallas Projects, Dublin (2011); TWMA Contemporary, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria (2010); Nightshifters, Performance Space, Sydney (2010); Video Swell Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2009); Rising Tide: Film and Video Works from the MCA Collection, MCA, Sydney and Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2009); Contemporary Australia: Optimism, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2008); Sonic Youth, Green on Red Gallery, Dublin and Amelie A Wallace Gallery, New York (2008); Interlace, Performance Space, Sydney and CAST Gallery, Hobart (2004); and Remembrance + the Moving Image, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne (2003).

Murphy’s video works have also been screened at the Barbican, London (2011); LOOP’08, Barcelona (2008); Broadstone Gallery, Dublin (2007); Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT), Liverpool (2006); and National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2004).

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