Perspectives on Place: Hayley Millar Baker ‘A tiger was shot’

In the lead up to the Fair’s official programming in February 2022, Melbourne Art Fair is introducing a new series of written works, Perspectives On Place. Released periodically, this series will invite a diverse cohort of writers, academics and artists to respond to the Fair’s thematic, offering unique and nuanced thinking on the meaning of place to them. The first in this series is Hayley Millar Baker‘s A tiger was shot, an emotive and visual piece that ruminates on connection to place felt through generations.


A tiger was shot

A tiger paced the entry of the home and dad’s father’s uncle shot at it. My dad told me this when I was a child. He said that the windows and doors in their home seldom closed due to the heat, and that the tiger had found its way into the village looking for a snack, unfortunately landing on their doorstep.

Much like a game of ‘telephone’, this event has been passed down from generation to generation, with varying factual disparities from person to person. Nonetheless that day, a tiger was shot at the family home and nobody was harmed.

In my dreams I witness tiger attacks. I see their massively muscular and stealthy physiques mockingly playing cat and mouse with their victims until they become uninterested and consume their prey.

Two weeks after dad’s mother passed away, Rio de Janeiro’s oldest and most important historical and scientific museum was consumed by an uncontrollable fire. A year later, record-breaking fires devastated the ecosystem of the Amazon, and happened to greatly intensify on the one-year anniversary of my dad’s mother’s death.

Logically, there is no connection between the death of my dad’s mother and the devastating events that occurred in her motherland of Brazil, I know that much to be true. But it’s rather comforting to consider the significant synchronicity, a tangible and everlasting connection to her spirit and a place.

When I was a child, my mum told me that she had the ability to astral travel. She said that she was able to leave her body, asleep in bed, while she transported herself outside of the house to any place she desired.

In another plane of existence, I met my mum’s mother’s grandfather in the place of the moment of his untimely death in 1890. Pinned to the road with substantial injuries, he gazed into my eyes and asked me who I was. Explaining to him that I was his descendant, he beamed with fulfilment, knowing that it was certain he would not be forgotten. When our meeting came to an end, his eyes faded, and he was gone. I am grateful to have met him, even if so briefly, and I look forward to the day that he brings himself forward to me once again.

I was not a witness on the day that my mum’s mother’s grandfather died over a hundred years ago, but the non-linear frequencies of time and space that I am able to exist within allowed me permission to be with him.

I was not a witness on the day that the tiger was shot, nor was I convinced that the burning of Brazil did not echo the burn in my heart following the loss of my father’s mother. The events that have occurred within my family carry on into my being, and so I dream of tiger attacks in a place I have not been.


Discover the Perspectives on Place series

Image: Hayley Millar Baker, I Will Survive 1 (detail), 2020. Courtesy the artist and Vivien Anderson Gallery, Naarm/Melbourne.