Archive for the 'Australian writing' Category

15
Aug
21

Review: ‘William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen’ at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane

Exhibition dates: 27th March – 22nd August 2021

Curator: Rosie Hays, Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

 

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Golden Summer' 1987/2016

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Golden Summer
1987/2016
Inkjet print, gold leaf on Innova Softex paper
40 x 30cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The Family of Yang

Let me tell you a story… a story made up of many smaller tales, told to me by a chronicler, diarist, writer, performance artist and filmmaker; socio-documentary photographer and historian; master of oral history and storytelling – Chinese-Australian artist William Yang.

Voluminous amounts of text have been written about Yang’s art practice and for this reason I only offer here a brief precis of his fifty year career as an artist. Indeed, it is impossible to cover such an expansive career in performance, film, text and photographs in one posting. After the precis I offer some thoughts and insights into Yang’s work.

Yang was born in 1943 into a family of Chinese immigrants in Far North Queensland. After moving to Brisbane in the mid-1960s to study architecture, he journeyed to Sydney in 1969 where he helped produce plays. Yang picked up a camera and started taking photographs of his friends, celebrities, parties and the gay scene in Sydney, Australia in the early-mid 1970s. His first exhibition Sydneyphiles at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Photography in 1977 set him on his way. Personal reflections were written directly on the mounts around his photographs something that he was to adapt further, inscribing his stories directly on the photographs in later bodies of work (“an oral tradition of storytelling transferred to the physical medium of the photograph”). In 1989, Yang began performing monologues with slide projections in theatres, integrating his skills as a writer and a visual artist.

As can be heard in the exhibition curator Rosie Hays’ video talk below, Yang’s first period was as a social life photographer / commercial photographer, earning a living selling his photographs to gay newspapers; his second period encompassed investigations into marginalised communities: queer community, Australian-Chinese community, Indigenous communities and telling alternative histories of Australia including the history of his Chinese-Australian heritage; and in the third period, Yang’s work has become more reflective, interested in ordinary things, interested in the life of the human embodied in the landscape.

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As a documentary photographer and performance artist, Yang’s work has examined numerous linked themes. The artist investigates the intimate connections between dystopian and utopian worlds – for example, between the body racked by AIDS and the body beautiful (see above), or between the racism of his childhood and the acceptance of his Chinese heritage – as he probes the paradoxes of existence, those parallels streams of life and death, where one person looks death in the eye and the other doesn’t even know it exists… in that moment. And then proposes a reconciliation between past and present, personal and private, between the margins and the centre. Through his personal stories he exposes himself in the act of making his art, transcending his life in art. Ego drops away and he becomes entirely his own person, entirely himself, when he performs in his inimitable, self-deprecating style.

I have a suspicion, and I could be entirely wrong here, that at heart the young Yang was a very shy and insecure person. From personal experience I know that many introverts hide their shyness through extrovert behaviour, wanting to belong, wanting to be in with the in crowd, to be the life of the party. Yang was always there at any event opening or party, never without a camera, always ready to capture what life put before him because he wanted to belong. Then, to his great credit, instead of getting caught in a rut as many artists do repeating the same thing over and over again, he had the intelligence, will and creativity to push himself further, to take those next steps in his development as an artist and human being… to take those steps that descend, in metaphor, to the centre of the earth, to the centre of his existence. He was on that golden path of self discovery, another step in the evolution of himself. He wanted to know how he, and others, fitted into the great scheme of life. As a chronicler of moments, a chronicler of history, he speaks aloud the thoughts of his own becoming.

While photography is about capturing a moment and being a vehicle for storytelling, it is so much more than that. It can be about the relationship between the photographer and the subject and how that relationship evolves from a personal engagement to a universal engagement. It is the artist’s view of the world through the camera lens turned from a personal story into a universal story to which any human being can relate. Here we have empathy and humanity, diversity and racism, voyeurism and performance, public and private, bigotry and poofdom, decadence and death. The artist tells those stories, where personal is universal.

Yang is an national treasure, a living legend. People relate to William Yang. They reveal themselves to him because they feel comfortable in his presence, comfortable in his spirit and energy. He draws people to him, he is a sage – from the Latin sapere ‘be wise’ – who loves documenting people and their interactions with each other and with himself. He draws people into his orbit… and creates magical stories and intimate photographs about human existence. There is an undeniable virtu to the person and his work. All the subjects of his art are his family. Whether a celebration of life, an investigation into community, in joy and in sadness, we are all, always, part of the Family of Yang.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Queensland-born, Sydney-based photographer William Yang’s significant contribution to Australian photography spans five decades. Known for his reflective and joyous depictions of Australia’s LGBTIQ+ scene in the late 70s and 80s through to the present. Yang’s photography is informed by the cultural and political pressures of growing up as a gay man from a Chinese immigrant family in north Queensland.

This exhibition is a major survey of Yang’s work, which traces his career from documentary photography through to explorations of cultural and sexual identities and his depictions of landscape. Yang integrates a photographic practice with writing, video and performance. The exhibition includes Yang’s prolific social portraiture which features prominent creative identities from theatre, film, art and literature such as Patrick White, Brett Whiteley and Cate Blanchett, his revelatory insights into the LGBTIQ+ community, and insightful images of the Australian landscape.

Seeing and Being Seen also includes early social photographs of Sydney’s arts scene as well as the artist’s long exploration of his family and childhood experience in North Queensland which interrogate and celebrate his Chinese-Australian identity, Yang’s identity as a Chinese-Australian, a gay man and artist informs his marginalised experience.

While the stories and images included in the exhibition are quite specific to Yang’s life, the emotions underpinning them are instantly recognisable and acutely relatable. There is confession and courage in his storytelling – his most well-known works are often deeply personal and represent the means by which he reckons with his past, his relationships, and his experience outside the mainstream.

Text from the QAGOMA website

 

 

“Yang’s generation is not life as reported in the newspapers but ‘as I saw it’: a personal account summed up as a litany of parties, of innocence lost and worldliness gained, a continuum of his search for contact and meaning. Like his contemporaries Rennie Ellis or Michael Rosen, William Yang is a social photographer, a recorder of life. His strength lies in creating a living testament, and his medium’s strength is that it is necessarily shared. He offers no moral tale, nor any notion of karma to underscore the events: just the three basic but vital stories – birth, love and death.”

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Michael Desmond, Senior Curator, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

 

“For me, seeing William’s images of men, swaddled in their desire, affection and easy love for one another, continues to disentangle something that’s been knotted up inside me for as long as I can remember. Asian men occupy a very specific idea in the Australian imagination – of being non-sexual, and therefore, undesirable – that we all inevitably internalise. The raw, unashamed sensuality of William’s imagery – of his unabashed desire for the men he captures, and the framing of Asian male beauty itself – is such a potent corrective. His images remind us that desire isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and that Asian men are desirable too.”

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Benjamin Law. ‘Bearing witness in the church of William Yang’ 2021

 

“I was a photographer, which means that I was a voyeur.”

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William Yang

 

“It was difficult to make ends meet as a playwright, so I became a photographer as a way of making money. I was attracted to the glamorous world. I wanted to be a part of it. One way of doing this, I thought, was to be a fashion photographer but i was terrible at it – I couldn’t cover up the flaws. I was better at covering parties and events.”

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William Yang, 1993

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing at left, Stand Palm Beach (1981); at middle, The Pool at Bondi #3 (1987); and at right, Golden Summer (1987/2016, above)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Tamarama Lifesavers' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Tamarama Lifesavers
1981
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl
39 x 70cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen / Exhibition walk-through

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Life Lines #3 – Self portrait #2 (1947)' 1947/2008

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Life Lines #3 – Self portrait #2 (1947)
1947/2008
Photographer: Unknown
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper, ed. 2/30
100 x 70cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2010
Photo: Carl Warner Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Alter ego' 2001

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Alter ego
2001
Digital inkjet print on rag paper
68 x 88cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing the artist standing in front of his photograph Life Lines #11 – William in scholar’s costume (1984) (1984/2009, below)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Life Lines #11 – William in scholar's costume (1984)' 1984/2009

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Life Lines #11 – William in scholar’s costume (1984)
1984/2009
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper, ed. 1/20
94.6 x 61.6cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2010
Photo: Carl Warner Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Self Portrait #5' 2008

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Self Portrait #5
2008
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper
42 x 65cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

An exhibition of more than 250 works by Australian photographer and performance artist William Yang opens at the Queensland Art Gallery from tomorrow until 22 August, 2021. William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen spans the artist’s five-decade career and is the first major survey of his work to be presented by an Australian state gallery.

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Director Chris Saines said Seeing and Being Seen referred to the artist’s view of the world through the camera lens. ‘Yang captures people across all walks of life, including celebrity artists, alongside photographic explorations that throw light onto subcultures and marginalised groups, and he does not turn away from unsettling narratives or uncomfortable truths,’ Mr Saines said. ‘We are thrilled to be presenting this major exhibition encompassing every aspect of Yang’s practice and highlighting his life-long fascination with people and storytelling. We are also premiering his major new performance ‘In Search of Home’ at GOMA.’

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said QAGOMA continued to take a leading role in showcasing Queensland-born artists, such as William Yang.

‘William Yang is a noted writer, performer and visual artist with an international profile and this exhibition is an important survey of his work, celebrating inclusivity and diversity,’ Minister Enoch said. ‘The Queensland Government’s support for QAGOMA helps ensure the Gallery will continue its legacy of celebrating Queensland artists and sharing works that tell our stories.’

The exhibition includes Yang’s prolific social portraiture which features prominent creative identities from theatre, film, art and literature such as Patrick White, Brett Whiteley and Cate Blanchett, his revelatory insights into the LGBTIQ+ community, and insightful images of the Australian landscape. Seeing and Being Seen also includes early social photographs of Sydney’s arts scene as well as the artist’s long exploration of his family and childhood experience in North Queensland which interrogate and celebrate his Chinese-Australian identity.

Rosie Hays, Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA and curator of Seeing and Being Seen said Yang’s identity as a Chinese-Australian, a gay man and artist informs his marginalised experience.

‘While the stories and images included in the exhibition are quite specific to William’s life, the emotions underpinning them are instantly recognisable and acutely relatable,’ Ms Hays said. ‘There is confession and courage in William’s storytelling. His most well-known works are often deeply personal and represent the means by which he reckons with his past, his relationships, and his experience outside the mainstream.’

Born in North Queensland in 1943, Yang grew up with little knowledge of his Chinese heritage. Even though his parents were second-generation Chinese-Australian, Cantonese was not spoken at home. After coming to Brisbane in the mid-1960s to study architecture at the University of Queensland, he moved to Sydney in 1969, and has lived and worked there ever since.

A major hard-cover publication accompanying the exhibition features essays by William Yang, curator Rosie Hays, Professor Susan Best and Benjamin Law.

Press release from the GOMA website

 

 

 

William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen / Illustrated Curator’s Talk

Exhibition curator Rosie Hays (Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA) traces William Yang’s reflective and joyous career, delving deeper into the artworks and themes addressed in Seeing and Being Seen.

 

 

 

Artist William Yang’s slideshow performance with stories and eyewitness images from Sydney’s thrilling and turbulent gay scene from the 1970s until now.

Yang is one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, a prolific photographer and a performer of monologues with slide projections. His stories describe the experience of coming to terms with his identity as a gay Chinese Australian. Yang’s work presents a rich and celebratory visual record of this journey, from Gay Liberation in the seventies, to the emergence of the Mardi Gras and a gay subculture in the eighties, to AIDS in the nineties.

 

 

William Yang. Families and Fictions: Contemporary Photography from the Collection: Artist Talk, Queensland Art Gallery, 2005

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) '"Mother Standing" Brisbane' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
“Mother Standing” Brisbane
1981
Gelatin silver photographs, ed. 2/10
51.3 x 61.1cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 2004
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) '"Mother Standing" Brisbane' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
“Mother Standing” Brisbane (detail)
1981
Gelatin silver photographs, ed. 2/10
51.3 x 61.1cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 2004
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing photographs for Yang’s ‘About my mother’ portfolio

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Mother. Graceville. 1989' 1989

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Mother. Graceville. 1989
1989
From ‘About my mother’ portfolio 2003
Gelatin silver photograph ed. 2/10
51.3 x 61.1cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 2004
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery│Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing in the top image, Dawn, Central Australia #3; and in the bottom image at centre top, Doris Fish (1988, below)

 

William Yang. 'Doris Fish' 1988

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Doris Fish
1988
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'The morning after' 1976

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
The morning after
1976
Gelatin silver print
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

Morning sun raking through a window gently lights William Yang’s photograph of sleeping bodies and cast-off clothing, portraying ‘the morning after’ with the intimacy of the dawn. Yang photographed Sydney’s social scene of the 1970s and 80s, capturing wild times at discos, nightclubs and parties. Yang also captured the revellers at rest, photographing the supine forms of his naked lovers, night-clubbers passed out on city pavements and benches, and friends sharing makeshift beds on lounge-room floors.

Yang’s first solo exhibition in 1977, Sydneyphiles, was a frank depiction of the Sydney party scene and the emerging gay community. In their unposed realism, his photographs avoid any air of glamour, focusing instead on the unguarded moment and the spontaneous interactions between friends. The scrupulous honesty of his black-and-white documentary style is offset by his poignant and affectionate portrayals of those people and places familiar to him. His photographs are taken from the position of a participant in the worlds they depict, collectively describing the experience of coming to terms with his identity as a gay Chinese Australian. Yang’s visual stories are infused with a gently wry tone, mixing self-deprecating humour with insightful reflections on cultural identity. Here Yang has created images of the aftermath of intimate encounters, apparent in crumpled sheets and the shapes of sleeping bodies.

Text from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney website

 

William Yang. 'Synthetic Diamonds at Paddington Town Hall' 1977

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Synthetic Diamonds at Paddington Town Hall
1977
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Alpha' late 1960s

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Alpha
late 1960s
Gelatin silver photograph with fibre-tipped pen on fibre-based paper, ed. 6/10
26.7 x 40.2cm
Collection: The University of Queensland purchased 2001
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Ben Law. Arncliffe' 2016/2020

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Ben Law. Arncliffe
2016/2020
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
30 x 50cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'The Story of Joe' 1979/2020

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
The Story of Joe
1979/2020
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag; single-channel video
Print: 40 x 60cm; video: 16:9, 3:50 minutes, colour, sound; installed dimensions variable
Writer/Performer: William Yang; Director/Producer: Ben Latham Jones
Co-Director/ Co-Producer: Sophie Georgiou
Camera Operator/Editor: Dean Lever; Auslan
Consultant: Sue Jo Wright
Technical Assistant: Jack Okeby
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang. 'Bondi Beach' 1970s

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Bondi Beach
1970s
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #1' 1994

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Splashproof #1
1994
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

William Yang, like many of his fellow Australian photographers, cannot help but be fascinated with the beach. In 1969, Yang left Brisbane for the bright lights of Sydney, and he fell in love with the city. At a distance from his family and Queensland’s conservatism, Sydney provided an opportunity for reinvention.

It was here that he combined his two photographic passions – landscape and people. Yang embraced the bleached allure of the city’s eastern beaches and took many iconic photographs of Bondi, Tamarama and Clovelly. …

Yang’s beach images present a refreshingly different framing of the typical Australian beach scene. The usual shots of bronzed female bodies or recreational pursuits take a backseat. Instead, Yang takes immense joy in the male figure, and his works represent a desirous male gaze on desirable male bodies.

The beach captured Yang’s eye from early in his career. At the time he started exploring the beach in his new Sydney home, Yang was also a jobbing social photographer, capturing celebrities and the ‘beautiful people’ behind the scenes at A-list parties for magazines. His approach to this work was in the photo-journalist style of capturing the unguarded moment.

Of his passion for taking images of the beach, Yang is a romantic at heart and has said:

“There”s an impulse in me that makes me go for the runny make-up, the unguarded moment, the Freudian slip. I mean I could photograph the plastic bags in the water, the rolls of fat, but the beach brings out the romantic in me. I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of it – the space, the surf, the sand and all that flesh. I’ve never gotten beyond the obvious.”

Rosie Hays. “William Yang: The Beach,” on the QAGOMA website 17 June, 2021 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Great Wave off Clovelly' 2005/2016

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Great Wave off Clovelly
2005/2016
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl
40 x 40cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang. 'Lifesaver Double' 1987/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Lifesaver Double
1987/2017
Digital print
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Lifesavers #3' 1987

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Lifesavers #3
1987
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Fie Art Metallic Pearl
32 x 49.5cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

“A prolific documentary photographer, storyteller and performer, William Yang creates works that tell an intimate, autobiographical story. Yang draws on his extensive archive of images, memories and sensual experiences, showing the unique atmosphere of freedom that prevailed on Sydney beaches in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Taken around Bondi and Tamarama, Yang has captured the joy of an era and the beauty of the elements with humour and generosity. More than reminiscence or exposé, Yang’s images reveal sensitive connections and insightful reflections about cultural identity.”

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Text from the ‘Under The Sun’ exhibition 2017

 

 

William Yang 'Checking Out Bondi' 1981/2017

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Checking Out Bondi
1981/2017
Digital print
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The Power of Being Seen

William Yang’s work, intimate and considered, draws on the artist’s own lived experience. Yang’s personal stories inform his spoken-word performances and photography, and he often scribes these stories directly onto his photographic prints. Drawn to people, Yang’s work reveals unsettling narratives in his own life, in the lives of his subjects, and in society. Adept at uncovering the unvarnished beauty and hidden foibles of our lives, storytelling is intrinsic to his practice. The artist spoke with exhibition curator Rosie Hays.

Rosie Hays: Are there stories you feel must be told? What draws you to the stories you tell from your own life?

William Yang: I [was] brought up as an assimilated Australian. Neither my brother, Alan, or my sister, Frances, or I learned to speak Chinese. Partly because my father’s clan was the Hakka, so he spoke Hakka, whereas my mother’s clan was the See Yap, and she spoke Cantonese, so English was their common language and that was what we spoke at home. My mother could have taught us Cantonese as it was generally left up to her to do that sort of thing, but she never did. She thought being Chinese was a complete liability and wanted us to be more Australian than the Australians. So, the Chinese part of me was completely denied and unacknowledged until I was in my mid-30s and I became Taoist. It was through my engagement with Chinese philosophy that I embraced my Chinese heritage. People at the time called me Born Again Chinese, and that’s not a bad description as there was a certain zealousness to the process, but now I see it as a liberation from racial suppression, and I prefer to say I came out as a Chinese.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Chinese New Year Party Year of the Rabbit' 1999

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Chinese New Year Party Year of the Rabbit
1999
Gelatin silver print
51 x 61.5cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

My first big success was my show ‘Sydneyphiles’ at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1977. It was mainly about my social life in Sydney, with portraits of people I had met. Besides my own set of artistic types (I knew Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson), I brushed with celebrities on the social rounds working for magazines. The exhibition caused a sensation. I knew then that people were my subject. I found that they wanted to see themselves on the gallery walls, they wanted representation. A compromising photo might cause annoyance, but it was better than being left out. There has always been an appetite for celebrities, well, that was to be expected. A vicarious interest in celebrity life still fuels the media. But I showed many photos of the emerging gay community as well. Australian photos of this type had not been shown in institutions before and it got a mixed reaction. Some said that these works shouldn’t be shown at a public institution, but mostly the pictures were accepted, especially by the gay community. A few were angry with me for outing them, but mostly I was hailed as a hero and was metaphorically given the keys to Oxford Street. I sensed that the mood of the gay community at the time was this: throughout history our community has been invisible. These photos may not be pretty, but we recognise them, and we accept them. We want our stories told.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Four film directors' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Four film directors
1981
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
53 x 80cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Wirian' 1982

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Wirian
1982
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Party at the Whiteleys', Lavender Bay' 1982

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Party at the Whiteleys’, Lavender Bay
1982
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
65 x 110cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing at centre right, Brett Whiteley, Lavander Bay, Sydney (1975, below); and directly below this, Cate Blanchett: The star in her dressing room. After “Hedda Gabler.” Wharf Theatre. Sydney (2004, below)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Brett Whiteley, Lavender Bay, Sydney' 1975

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Brett Whiteley, Lavender Bay, Sydney
1975
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Cate Blanchett: The star in her dressing room. After "Hedda Gabler." Wharf Theatre. Sydney' 2004

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Cate Blanchett: The star in her dressing room. After “Hedda Gabler.” Wharf Theatre. Sydney
2004
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
54 x 80cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

These days I don’t take as many photographs. I’m sorting through my collection, trying to get it into some sort of order, and trying to digitise the negatives and the colour transparencies […]. I don’t want to be a photographer who dies leaving a pile of mouldy negatives for someone else to sort out […]. Every time I look through my collection, I am surprised because I have largely forgotten what happened in the past. Photography is a major aid to memory and the photographer a witness to the past. A photograph captures a moment in time. You don’t have to do anything special for this to happen, just press the shutter. There is something in the nature of the camera to freeze these moments in time, and there is something in the nature of the world to change and move on, so these moments never occur again.

In the early 1980s I started to do slide projection. It started off as a way to show my colour photography. At the time the colour printing process, Cibachrome, was expensive, and projection was a cheaper way showing my colour images. In 1980 in Adelaide, I met Ian de Gruchy, who did slide projection as his main art form. I was interested in his dissolve unit – a device using two projectors where the projected images dissolved into each other. Music was used, usually minimal music, and the result was known as an audio-visual. When one projects slides, as in a living room slide show, there is a tendency to talk with the slides, explaining them, and I started to do that. I worked with audio-visuals for seven years during the 80s until I had nine photographic essays, or short stories, to string together into a one man show. It was called ‘The Face of Buddha’ and I presented it at the Downstairs Belvoir Street Theatre in 1989. I lost money on that show, but still consider it a success. Everyone liked the form, story-telling with images and music.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) "William Yang performing Sadness" Sydney 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
“William Yang performing Sadness”
Sydney 1992
Photo: Peter Elfes (from ‘About my mother’ portfolio 2003)
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 2/10 / 51.3 x 61.1cm
Purchased 2004
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Production still from Sadness' 1999

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Production still from Sadness
1999
Director: Tony Ayres
Image courtesy: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia and William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

“Allan was a landmark for Yang and for Australian documentary photography. The combination of simple, unadorned portrait photos and diaristic, handwritten commentary made each viewer feel intimately acquainted with the subject. The step-by-step progress towards death puts us on the alert for every passing emotion in Allan’s face – he is sad, stoical, cheerful, grim, frivolous and heroic by turns. At the end of his life he has become an empty husk. It’s a devastating slice of reality smuggled into an art gallery, a piece that stops viewers in their tracks every time it’s shown.”

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Extract from John McDonald. “Devastating and intimate: the landmark photos that stop viewers in their tracks,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website April 1, 2021 [Online] Cited 09/08/2021

 

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The most popular story was called ‘About My Mother’. I told the story about my mother’s family, how they came to Australia in the 1880s from Guang Dong province in China. My mother’s sister, my Aunt Bessie, married a rich landowner, William Fang Yuen, who was murdered by the white manager on his cane farm at Marilyan in north Queensland in 1922. I got an Australia Council grant to do my third performance piece, ‘Sadness’, in 1992. There were two themes: the first involved the AIDS pandemic in Sydney where many gay men, some of them my friends, were dying; and the second was a trip I took to north Queensland to talk to my relatives about William Fang Yuen’s murder. The two themes formed a powerful story about death and legacy. It was an immediate hit and toured Australia and the world. International entrepreneurs wanted my performance pieces, which they considered unique, not my exhibitions, so I kept doing more performance pieces and they became my main artistic expression.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'William in Cane Fields' 2008

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
William in Cane Fields
2008
From ‘My uncle’s murder’ portfolio 2008
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper
59 x 91cm
© William Yang
Photograph: Jenni Carter
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Self Portrait, Listening' 2017

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Self Portrait, Listening
2017
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
38 x 60cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The performance pieces changed my photographic practice. Before the 1990s, I made my living from freelance work. I would do whatever jobs people would pay me money to do. Then I found I could make a living doing my performance pieces, so I didn’t have to work for other people. I was able to channel all my energy into my own work and I became more productive. My performance pieces were about stories and I realised that many of my photos had stories behind them. I started writing the text directly onto the photo with a pen. My first series was about men with whom I had had encounters. All those photos had good stories. I have continued to do written works, as I call them, and the pictures with my handwriting have become the signifier of my work. Now I often choose images because they have a story.

Rosie Hays: Do you ever feel you’re telling other people’s stories, or are they your stories that happen to intersect with other people?

William Yang: When I ran out of my own stories, I wanted to tell an Aboriginal story because I felt the Chinese and the Aboriginal people had something in common: both had suffered under British colonialism. In my commissioned piece ‘Shadows’, I tried to tell an Aboriginal story about a community in Enngonia in north-western New South Wales, and it was successful in that I made myself part of the story, but I felt a little uncomfortable telling their story. Later I found someone, Noeline Briggs-Smith, who could tell her own story, and we did a story-telling duet on stage [called] ‘Meeting at Moree’, where we told alternating chapters of our stories on stage. She […] had a much stronger story than me. She had suffered more and worse injustices than I had, but there were interesting intersections in our stories.

Rosie Hays: Something we highlight in the exhibition is your connection to landscape. How would you describe your relationship to nature / the landscape, and has it changed over time?

William Yang: Most photographers have a go at nature. Everyone has photographed a sunset. I had my first serious encounter with photographing nature when I was recovering from a bad case of hepatitis at Frogs Hollow, Maleny, in 1979. I felt fragile from the illness and taking photos made me feel I could still do things. Looking at the photos now, the pictures are a beginner’s view. That’s the thing about nature: it’s been done a billion times before, and it’s difficult [to] escape cliché, but I had to start somewhere and I got a few good ones.

When I became Taoist, I took on a whole new philosophy. I came to appreciate nature, in the form of landscape, as a source and a driving force behind everything that exists. It was constantly changing and renewing itself. Everything about nature was beautiful because it was essentially always itself. I found I could apply a concept of beauty to nature, at least compared to the human nature I was photographing at the time. Later I began to see nature as a titanic struggle for survival […].

I came to realise that the landscape which moved me the most was the country around Dimbulah in north Queensland (on the Atherton Tableland), where I had grown up. It was part of my identity, part of my idea of home. I had absorbed it, it had imprinted itself upon me, and, although I did not realise it at the time – this was before I had articulated an artistic consciousness – it was there in my consciousness and I could draw upon it. So, in the early 90s, I made several trips up to Dimbulah, checking out the country that I remembered from my childhood. Nothing quite fitted my memories, but perhaps that’s a thing about childhood and memory. Nevertheless, I photographed a series on a medium format camera, trying to recapture memories. Now I enjoy returning to Dimbulah and seeing the landscape. It still triggers off emotions, but I feel they have become more distant. This text is from my print William at Thornborough, 2006:

“I have left these places and I have changed. These places still hold me but I move around these hills like a ghost. It is the motherland which formed and nourished me, from where I came, but to which I can never return.”

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Climbing Huang Shan' 2005

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Climbing Huang Shan
2005
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper
41 x 48cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah (2016, below)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Boranup Karri Forest #1' 2018

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Boranup Karri Forest #1
2018
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
50 x 150cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah' 2016

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah
2016
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
50 x 150cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing at lower left, Boranup Karri Forest #1 (2018, above)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Earth Below, Heaven Above' 2020 (still)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Earth Below, Heaven Above (still)
2020
Two-channel video, 16:9, 5:36 minutes, colour, sound
Editor: Jack Okeby
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

Rosie Hays: What are your aspirations as an artist? What is the aim for your work in the larger sense?

William Yang: Two of my most important realisations were, firstly, that I was not white but Chinese, and secondly, that I was not straight, but gay. I probably realised these at an early age, but it took me a long time to articulate the condition and to come to terms with it. Personally, I suffered more pain being a closeted gay than being Chinese. These are both big themes in my work. When I started including gay work in my exhibitions, some photographers told me it [was] a phase I was going through and I’d be better off dealing with universal issues. They were right, in a way, because by continuing to deal with marginalised issues, my audience base is much smaller. I would probably have made more money sticking with celebrity lives and continuing the status quo, but it is important for me to talk about being gay and to talk about racial difference, even if they are commercially unpopular subjects. Nowadays, there is more acceptance of being gay here in Australia, and likewise, there is more awareness of racial difference, but in the wider world this is not always the case. It is a cause worth pursuing, and documentary photography with a personal story thrown in is a good way of doing it. I want to acknowledge the activists around the world that have made social change happen.

I want my work to embrace my life. I’ve managed to live to a mature age – I was fortunate not to die young as many of my colleagues did during the AIDS pandemic. One lives a life, and I am not the same person as I was when I was younger. Then I had more energy, had more opinions, some of them obnoxious – in short, I had many of the traits of a young person that old people like to complain about. But one learns from life, and I have lived to this age and can see there is a shape to one’s life. It has to do with the things you believe in and the choices you make (I always knew being an artist would be a hard road), it is shaped by external forces beyond your control, and it is also shaped by luck. Still, I consider my life a fortunate one.

I think I like stories because they are about people and the world. They somehow embrace humanity. I would like my art to convey feelings, emotions, what it is like to be a sentient human: experiencing joy, laughter and sadness, to realise we are vulnerable, that we have our failings, we do bad things, but we are capable of forgiveness, kindness and love.

Rosie Hays is Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA She spoke with the artist in 2020.

This is an edited excerpt of the original interview, which appears in the exhibition publication William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen, available at the QAGOMA Store

 

William Yang. 'Deposition. Innisfail Court House. 1922' 1990

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Deposition. Innisfail Court House. 1922
1990
From ‘About my mother’ portfolio 2003
Gelatin silver photograph on paper
51.3 x 61.1cm (comp.)
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art purchased 2004
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Self portrait #1' 1992, printed 2013

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Self portrait #1
1992, printed 2013
Inkjet print on paper
87 x 119cm (comp.)
Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art purchase 2013
© William Yang

 

 

William Yang Self portrait #1 / A Director’s Perspective

Join QAGOMA Director Chris Saines CNZM as he discusses William Yang’s Self portrait #1 1992 (printed 2013)

 

 

William Yang’s work, intimate and considered, draws on the artist’s own lived experience. Yang’s personal stories inform his spoken-word performances and photography, and he often scribes these stories directly onto his photographic prints. Drawn to people, Yang’s work reveals unsettling narratives in his own life, in the lives of his subjects, and in society. Adept at uncovering the unvarnished beauty and hidden foibles of our lives, storytelling is intrinsic to his practice.

 

Self Portrait #1

Yang’s unflinching photographic gaze draws from the documentary tradition. Since the 1980s, Yang has displayed an unyielding persistence in unearthing stories that society, or even his subjects, might prefer to remain hidden. His instinct and passion is to present the whole, flawed story, not just the glossy surface.

With stories such as his uncle’s murder, Yang courts his family’s disapproval by airing hidden family stories, balancing potential indiscretions with the importance of telling real stories that reveal experiences or communities often left out of public discourse.

In the mid 1980s, Yang met Yensoon Tsai, a young Taiwanese woman who would become a close friend. Tsai taught Yang the tenets of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which led him to explore his Chinese-Australian identity.

Throughout the late 1980s and 90s in Australia, multicultural stories emerged across various art forms. Yang was part of this wave of artists rejecting a suppression of their cultural histories, and who instead wanted to highlight and celebrate diversity. Yang travelled throughout regional and urban Australia documenting the lives of Chinese-Australians, and the landscapes reflecting the legacy of the Chinese in Australia, such as religious shrines and mining sites.

Self Portrait #1 is a landscape work (in the way Yang talks about landscape which is often rooted in people and place and memory) as much as it a portrait work. Capturing the landscape is part of Yang’s somewhat diaristic approach to processing his social and physical environment.

When Yang returns to the Queensland landscape from his childhood, he characterises it as a site to escape from. He needed to escape from racist school bullying, constrictive family expectations, and the dread that his sexuality may be met with disapproval. Yang revisits his childhood home regularly, and some of his most potent performances and photographs come from connecting family and place. The series ‘My Uncle’s Murder’ – and its recounting of an injustice borne of racism dating from 1922 – resulted from such a trip. In his later works, he makes an uneasy peace with these past experiences that are embedded in the landscape of his youth.

Rosie Hays. “William Yang’s work reveals unsettling narratives in his own life,” on the QAGOMA website 4 October, 2020 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Waiting for the Parade to Start' 2019

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Waiting for the Parade to Start
2019
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
56.5 x 85cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Jac Vidgen and Akira Isogawa, Sweatbox Party' 1989

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Jac Vidgen and Akira Isogawa, Sweatbox Party
1989
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Patrick White #1, living room, Martin Road' 1988

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Patrick White #1, living room, Martin Road
1988
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 2/10
45.6 x 36.4cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 1998
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'My Generation (Brett Whiteley)' 1975 (detail)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
My Generation (Brett Whiteley) (detail)
1975
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

My Generation

Queensland-born, Sydney-based artist William Yang describes a moment in Sydney when a number of creative groups came together to generate an artistic wave that swept across Australian society.

The intersections of the tight literary circle of Nobel award winner Patrick White and his partner, Manoly Lascaris, with the theatrical circle, their friends Jim Sharman and actress Kate Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick, in turn, models frocks in the exuberant fashion parades organised by designers Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee, while artists Peter Tully and David McDiarmid extend the tongue-in-cheek Australiana of the two fashionistas’ outfits with witty accessories. Their parades and parties at retail outlet Flamingo Park, a magnet for influential people in business, politics and the arts, determined the look of the 1970s and early 1980s. Tully and McDiarmid used their bravura visuals to jump start the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, giving the event its unique and unforgettable style. The pair lived out a parallel lifestyle that might epitomise the Australian story of gay liberation, with its heady rush unfolding into aching tragedy.

Golden couple Brett and Wendy Whiteley enjoyed the creative atmosphere of the swinging ’60s and the plunge into a riotous world of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Yang shows Brett painting, smoking and partying with the beautiful people, and his eventual deterioration as heroin took a fearful hold. The early death of their beautiful daughter, Arkie, was another aspect of this fated family history. Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee eventually split; Kee takes Danton Hughes, the son of Robert Hughes, as a lover; Danton suicides; Kee takes up Buddhism. Yang portrays lives that unfold, flower or wither: lives lived.

Yang’s generation is not life as reported in the newspapers but ‘as I saw it’: a personal account summed up as a litany of parties, of innocence lost and worldliness gained, a continuum of his search for contact and meaning. Like his contemporaries Rennie Ellis or Michael Rosen, William Yang is a social photographer, a recorder of life. His strength lies in creating a living testament, and his medium’s strength is that it is necessarily shared. He offers no moral tale, nor any notion of karma to underscore the events: just the three basic but vital stories – birth, love and death.

Extract from Michael Desmond. “William Yang: My Generation,” in Artlines 1-2009 in “William Yang: Portraits,” on the QAGOMA website 22 September, 2017 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'David Gulpilil' 1978

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
David Gulpilil
1978
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee' 1979

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee
1979
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Richard Neville and Bob Geldof at Wirian' 1980

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Richard Neville and Bob Geldof at Wirian
1980
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

In order to make a living as a photographer, Yang began his career taking candid shots of ‘beautiful people’ at parties and events for the social pages of newspapers and magazines. Yang rubbed shoulders with celebrities, artists and performers, and discovered that the camera was an entry pass to an exclusive backstage world populated by kindred spirits, with whom he formed close bonds.

Yang’s prolific social portraiture includes some of the most prominent people in Australian theatre, film, art and literature, with more than a few international cameos. A much-loved and trusted figure who is embedded into Sydney’s social fabric, Yang’s images are taken with the razzle-dazzle of celebrity, but little of its conceit.

Within the show is a salon hang ‘social wall’ which long predates Instagram. The selection of faces is reflective of Yang’s friendships and his abiding passion for the arts – they embody both the glamour of celebrity and provide behind-the-scenes insights into the lives of artists from a range of backgrounds. With a camera around his neck, Yang came to understand that he could ask his subjects a series of personal questions, and they would reveal more of themselves than they would during the course of casual conversation.

Representing only a fraction of Yang’s social photography, these images capture the almost compulsive nature of his passion for recording people and places. His gift for eliciting the essence of his subjects through portraiture – whether candid or posed – has been apparent his entire career.

Rosie Hays. “William Yang: Celebrity and Portraiture,” on the QAGOMA website 7 May, 2021 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Rainbow Angel Wings' 2003

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Rainbow Angel Wings
2003
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
27 x 40cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Marriage Equality, Mardi Gras' 2013

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Marriage Equality, Mardi Gras
2013
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

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Phone: +61 (0)7 3840 7303

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09
May
21

Review: ‘Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – Tom Goldner’ at the Meat Market Stables, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th February – 27th February 2021

Photography & Curation/Art Direction – Tom Goldner
Moving Image – Angus Scott
Sound – Sean Kenihan
Poetry – Dr Judith Crispin (publication)
Colourist – CJ Dobson (moving image)
Audio Visual – Toto Creative
Cover Art – Katherina Rodrigues (publication)

 

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

 

Strange Beauty

Bloated prostrate tentacles

wither into our idea of dying

overlapping human, shit

feeding foulest vegetables,

regenerating sourly

Kingdoms of foulest water

regorging sourly

Bloated brumbies, winged coal

rejigs

Strange Beauty

Floating in our mind

In grey greasy horror water

Full of surprises –

like a holocaust holding pond

At your peril

 

Skull twisted,

Served on corrugated soot

Land, once precious

disguised, drained

black, gold – split

burnt to reburn

charred brumbies, flying coal

rem/embers,

Millions of worst worst

Strange Beauty

lost as sources

Boiling, bubbling – like a holocaust

At your peril

 

Belching wishes to reassemble

Hexing new forms

Bottom of our nightmare

Bottom of our innings

Animals worst worst

Plants unredeemable

Satan not lucifer

Sky a trap

Wings a trap

Escape a trap

Strange Beauty

beside the dead and ugly

like a holocaust

Do you want to …

(At your peril)

… Remember ?

.
Marcus Bunyan and Ian Lobb, May 2021

 

 

Contested Ground

I saw this darkly mysterious, immersive exhibition by the artist Tom Goldner just after Melbourne suffered its mini-five day COVID lock down in February 2021, but I have been awaiting the installation photographs and video of the event to publish this posting.

This stimulating exhibition, with its wonderfully atmospheric sound track, was an overlapping animation of conceptual, documentary photographs that appear in Goldner’s book Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – and placed “the audience within the Snowy Mountains and Victorian Alpine regions during the period of 2019-2020 referred to as the Black Summer“, the project (both multimedia exhibition and book) considering “the systems which position the Snowy Mountain brumby and the catastrophic 2019-2020 Australian bushfires within a time of ecological uncertainty.” The starting point into Goldner’s investigation was that of the Snowy Mountain brumby, an Australian feral wild-roaming horse, an invasive, non-native species introduced during colonisation. The brumbies cannot see in red, and the artist wondered how the world must have appeared to them illuminated by the strange light of the raging bushfires. He uses this idea as a metonym throughout the project which acts as an entry point into both the human and nonhuman world, to begin to understand the human perception of this catastrophic event and the anthropogenic changes that are happening in the Australian landscape.

The research which underpins Goldner’s project is guided “by the work of English professor Timothy Morton and his theories on ‘ecological awareness’ in Dark Ecology (2016), which examine the intersection of places, scales and nonhuman interrelations. Running parallel to these ideas are those of American professor Donna Haraway’s most recent book, Staying with the Trouble (2016). Particularly her concept of the ‘Chthulucene’ that strives to capture a future in which all things in the world are connected, coexist and, in many cases, ‘collaborate’, and through this, we learn to ‘live and die well together’ and achieve a kind of ‘ongoingness’.” The artist seeks to flatten the hierarchy between human and nonhuman life by allowing us to recognise ourselves within the violence we inflict on the natural world during this human-assisted ecological disaster.

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While the project professes to challenge the notion of clear and tidy boundaries in a time of ecological uncertainty, in reality it offers a particularly one-eyed perspective on the subject of anthropogenic changes to the landscape. I don’t mind this perspective at all, in fact I applaud it, for the ultimate goal of the photographs is to open our eyes to the destruction that human actions are inflicting on our environment. Through beautifully modulated photographs of great sensitivity Goldner pictures these spaces of destruction and re/generation. But is there ever an “original” landscape to which we must return?

In humans, a reduced sensitivity to red light due to missing or defective L-cones (or long wave cones) is known as protanopia or protanomaly. The derivation of the word protanopia is from the early 20th century: from proto- ‘original’ (red being regarded as the first component of colour vision) + an- ‘lacking’ + ‘opia’- (denoting a visual disorder). Protanomaly makes red look more green and less bright while protanopia makes you unable to tell the difference between red and green at all. People with protanopia are more likely to confuse black with many shades of red; dark brown with dark green, dark orange and dark red; some blues with some reds, purples and dark pinks; and mid-greens with some oranges (see image below).

When the first component of colour vision (red) is lacking we have a visual disorder. How, then, can we see the intersection of the human and non-human world clearly if we have a visual disorder? To what are we to return, to an untouched paradisiacal landscape pre-colonisation, pre-human inhabitation – to an “original” we can no longer see – or do we acknowledge the paradoxical “nature” of our contemporary existence on this earth in a more balanced way. Nothing is ever black and white, or in this case colour(–).1

For many generations humans have lived in the Snowy Mountains and Victorian Alpine regions, singing pastorals to the gods, seeking guidance to live on the land: the mountain ranges are thought to have had Aboriginal occupation for 20,000 years and after the areas were first explored by Europeans from the 1830s-1850s, high country stockmen followed using the mountains for grazing during the summer months (Wikipedia). Over the last few years, people of Victoria’s high country and animal lovers have rallied against the proposed culling of feral brumbies in the state’s national parks. They cite that brumbies hold “heritage value, they are part of our cultural and social history. Brumbies have lived in our Heritage National Parks for two centuries; are descendants of remounts that were sent to War with our soldiers… Brumbies were immortalised by Banjo Patterson, feature in paintings by Sydney Nolan and written about in the Silvery Brumby novels by Ellyne Mitchell. Brumbies are part of the fabric of our Australian society. It is undeniable that extremist elements must not be allowed to dictate on cultural and social values.”2 Goldner states that, “Brumbies are a symbol of national consciousness. While they may be labelled as a ‘feral species’ and a threat to native ecosystems by environmentalists, they are also valued as an important part of Australia’s history as a symbol of national spirit.”

Contested ground indeed, and perhaps one that needed to be more fully investigated in Goldner’s project.

While the second sentence in the above paragraph is true I would argue that the opposite of the first sentence is at least possible – that brumbies are an anti-symbol of national consciousness, for the animals hardly ever impinge on the collective consciousness of most Australians when they think about the Australian landscape. How often would the vast bulk of the city-dwelling Australian population think about the brumby as a symbol of national consciousness? Hardly ever would be my answer. It is not an original thought about the landscape that they would have.

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Walking through the darkened spaces of the exhibition, I let the phenomena of superb images and sounds wash over me. The experience was particularly moving given the strange beauty of the limited colour palette images and the atmospheric vibrations of the music. For me, the key image of the exhibition was not that of the bloated brumby lying prostrate on the blackened earth, but that of an isolated grave standing erect in the scorched landscape. With no context to allow the viewer to anchor this grave to a historical past, all we are left with are questions and metaphors. What is this grave doing seemingly in the middle of nowhere? Who is the person buried there? The metaphors are rich indeed: the erect whiteness of the white man’s grave stone isolated against the black ness of the landscape, a landscape not their own, and perhaps not of their own making. The anonymous writing on the grave stone standing as a metaphor for any human who has ever lived. The iron fence that segregates the human from the land even as they buried in it… as though they are a part of this earth but apart from it. A masterful image if ever I saw one.

In the overlapping, interstitial, spatio-temporal dimensions of the gallery I placed myself into the existence of these works, into their networks of existence. As the artist wanted, I recognised “the violence we inflict on the natural world during this human-assisted ecological disaster” but not, I insist, through the flattening of the hierarchy between human and nonhuman life but through it’s very opposite – through an acknowledgement of the multiple, fragmented, lexias of existence,2 networks that live in multiple levels of intersectionality, like a spiders web created in the dimensions of extended space. Into this geometry of space, into the spatio-temporal ‘nature’ of photography – death, power, transcendence, timelines, delay, exposure, territorialisations, assemblage, bricolage, rhizomic structures and the author – “seeing is no longer framed or presupposed through relations of distance or perspective. Rather, the eye and the visible are embodied as they struggle with positionality, in the physical, mental, and emotional conflicts that result when you have to take responsibility for what you see, instead of conferring that responsibility on an-other.”4

Goldner’s vision embodies this ongoing thickness, this ongoing responsibility.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Conceptually, wholes are divided up or taken apart, dis-integrated into component pieces. They may be reintegrated, but in a way that reflects the understanding of those pieces at the time of their disassembly; the way the functions of individual parts of a whole are seen depends on the way the whole is divided into parts. Different visions result in different views of the whole.”
    Wolf, Mark. Abstracting Reality: Art, Communication, and Cognition in the Digital Age. Lanham: University Press of America, 2000, p. 196.
  2. Anonymous author. “Melbourne rally “Stop the bullets”,” media release on the Australian Brumby Alliance website May 1, 2021 [Online] Cited 09/05/2021.
  3. Lexia is perhaps the most widely applicable term for describing the linked pieces of information within a hypertext, referred to in various contexts as nodes, pages, frames and workspaces.
  4. Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 137-138.

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Many thankx to Tom Goldner for allowing me to publish the photographs and video in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. The Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – Photo Book is available from Tom Goldner’s website.

 

 

protanopia vision

 

Protanopia vision

 

 

Photography & Curation/Art Direction – Tom Goldner
Moving Image – Angus Scott

 

 

Photography & Curation/Art Direction – Tom Goldner
Moving Image – Angus Scott

 

 

“A large portion of the project was made in the Snowy Mountain region of New South Wales.

During the first tip to the fire grounds in early January 2020 we came across a wild horse… It had died of a lung bleed while trying to escape the bushfires. I used the brumby as an entry point into Australia’s colonial history, proposing that the brumby is a manifestation of our collective actions.

I later learn that horses only see in blues and greens, and I wondered how the world must have appeared to them illuminated by that strange red light.

The project asks, can we too see the world differently?”

.
Tom Goldner on the Blackriver website [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

 

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? is a research-driven project which explores anthropogenic changes in the Australian landscape through the use of conceptual documentary photography. Presented as an immersive experience this collaborative project utilises large-scale projection to place the audience within the Snowy Mountains and Victorian Alpine regions during the period of 2019-2020 referred to as the Black Summer.

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? negotiates the human perception of this catastrophic event. This exhibition and publication reveals the bushfires and resulting damage through the eyes of another human-assisted ecological disaster, one of an invasive species: the Snowy Mountain Brumby.

The project considers the systems which position the Snowy Mountain brumby and the catastrophic 2019-2020 Australian bushfires within a time of ecological uncertainty. The Snowy Mountain brumby, an Australian feral wild-roaming horse, appears as a metonym throughout the project and acts as an entry point into both the human and nonhuman world.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

 

Installation views of the exhibition Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner 2021 at the Meat Market Stables, Melbourne

 

 

“Mixed-up times are overflowing with both pain and joy – with vastly unjust patterns of pain and joy, with unnecessary killing of ongoingness but also with necessary resurgence. The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present. Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places.”

.
Donna Haraway, 2016

 

 

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? is a project driven by research which explores anthropogenic changes in the Australian landscape through the use of conceptual documentary photography, video and audio recordings.

The project considers the systems which position the Snowy Mountain brumby and the catastrophic 2019-2020 Australian bushfires within a time of ecological uncertainty. The Snowy Mountain brumby, an Australian feral wild-roaming horse, appears as a metonym throughout the project and acts as an entry point into both the human and nonhuman world.

Brumbies are a symbol of national consciousness. While they may be labelled as a ‘feral species’ and a threat to native ecosystems by environmentalists, they are also valued as an important part of Australia’s history as a symbol of national spirit. Brumbies represent wildness and the way we relate to, and attempt to control, nature.

The project challenges the notion of clear and tidy boundaries in a time of ecological uncertainty. The research is underpinned by the work of English professor Timothy Morton and his theories on ‘ecological awareness’ in Dark Ecology (2016), which examine the intersection of places, scales and nonhuman interrelations. Running parallel to these ideas are those of American professor Donna Haraway’s most recent book, Staying with the Trouble (2016). Particularly her concept of the ‘Chthulucene’ that strives to capture a future in which all things in the world are connected, coexist and, in many cases, ‘collaborate’, and through this, we learn to ‘live and die well together’ and achieve a kind of ‘ongoingness’.

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? seeks to flatten the hierarchy between human and nonhuman life by allowing us to recognise ourselves within the violence we inflict on the natural world. The visual outcomes that navigate these ideas are intertwined and are driven by a series of photographs, moving images and audio recordings. The project culminates in a photobook with an accompanying poem by Australian artist and academic Dr Judith Nangala Crispin. The publication was produced to be presented alongside a mixed-media exhibition, comprising of large-format projected still and moving imagery and a soundscape.

Text from the Tom Goldner website [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

'Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – Photo Book'

 

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – Photo Book

 

 

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2 Wreckyn St, North Melbourne

Meat Market Stables website

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31
Jan
21

Review: ‘DESTINY’ at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2020 – 14th February 2021

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

“There is no excuse for ignorance, and you should make an effort to understand what happens in our world. How else can you be contemporary?”

.
Destiny Deacon

 

 

Embodied Ab/origin

This is a strong, powerful if rather repetitive exhibition by Destiny Deacon at NGV Australia, Melbourne. It’s like being hit over the head with a blakly ironic blunt object many times over, just like Aboriginal people have had both physical and cultural violence enacted upon them many times over since the arrival of the white man in terra nullius, a misnomer if ever there was one.

“Drawing from her vast collection of Aboriginalia, Deacon interrogates the way in which Aboriginal people have been, and continue to be, misrepresented within popular culture.” Aboriginalia is repurposed “historicised, interpreted and recast through Aboriginal eyes”, especially through the use of white-appropriated and conceptualised Blak dolly models that allegedly “possess a liveliness and personality, making the violence enacted on to them all the more confronting.” Deacon photographs her reclaimed dollies using Polaroids from which colour prints are enlarged. Technically and aesthetically this means the photographs loose the uniqueness, size and aura of a Polaroid, perhaps not the best outcome for the use of the instant photography process in the making of memorable images.

The exhibition never strays far from its theme: that whities will never understand the symbols of racism perpetrated against Blaks embedded in white culture, unless they are pointed out to them. This concept is expressed through the silent voice of the archetypal Blak doll – dis/embodied, headless, amputated, tied up, trapped in a blizzard, over the fence, adopted – inserted placelessly into whatever scenario bigotry and racism rears its head, a snatched headline of dispossession and grief. While the Blak dolls are a paradigm that Deacon uses to represent the “collective lives” of Aborigines under the heal of a repressive regime, no idea is ever investigated fully for the viewer is only given a snippet of information. Holistically, these snippets add up to a terrible indictment of a dominant race lording it over a vanquished one.

“Marcia Langton once described Destiny Deacon’s work as a ‘barometer of postcolonial anxiety’.” Personally, I don’t feel any sense of postcolonial anxiety when I look at Deacon’s work. I just feel sad, very sad and guilty. Sad for the invasion, sad and guilty for the lives lost, dispossession, poor health, shorter life spans, racism and inequality, the ongoing discrimination and neglect. It’s like sticking the knife in over and over again. I so wish it was different. We KNOW, if we are informed sentient beings, the injustices that Aboriginal people suffered and continue to suffer. As Deacon says, there is no excuse for ignorance. But this is preaching to the converted. How many Joe Public will come and see this exhibition to be informed and to change their mind? As a friend of mine succinctly said, “Don’t come to this exhibition if you don’t want your racism challenged.” Many will not bother. For others this will be a confronting exhibition. And in all this reclaiming of Aboriginalia, all this confrontation, all this looking back, the dredging up of every little inequality – it leaves me thinking: what is the future, where is the positiveness, where is the forward looking cultural creativity of a great people?

I believe that this contemporary reconceptualisation of history from a singular standpoint – that of a unified Ab/original people represented by Blak dolly – is pure hokum. Aboriginal culture is made up of many mobs, many voices, reflecting the difference in backgrounds and experiences of different communities which come together in diversity to present “a statement about the unity of Aboriginal people, the defiant continuity of their cultural traditions and the personal search of many individual artists for their own Aboriginal identity.”1 In this exhibition, where are the homosexual Aboriginals, the lesbian Aboriginals, the transgender Sista Girls, or an investigation into interracial marriages that are loving and kind, instead of just more and more works that reinforce injustices (of history) in the here and now, through the dis/embodied plastic body of a silent doll. Where is the positivity for the future, for example an acknowledgement of the thousands of people that attended Invasion Day rallies this year?

Collectively, the exhibition powerfully questions the processes of a problematic cultural assimilation using repurposed Aboriginalia but today Aboriginal identities, like all identities, are in a state of transformation and flux. I look at the work of contemporary African artists and I see joy, hope, colour, movement, new identities, new sites of conceptualisation in the evolving struggle to engage new definitions of nationhood in relation to the autonomous, self-governing body. They acknowledge history, discrimination, the struggle for freedom, but are more forward looking, more engaged with the possibilities of the future rather than the deficits of the past expressed in the inequalities of the present. When is a positive voice of embodied (not disembodied, decapitated) Ab/origin going to emerge in contemporary art?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Jennifer Isaacs. “Introduction,” in Jennifer Isaacs (ed.,). Aboriginality: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings and Prints. University of Queensland Press, 1996, p. 8.

.
Many thankx to the NGV for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. All the other images, as noted, are iPhone images of the exhibition by Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Destiny Deacon is one of Australia’s boldest and most acclaimed contemporary artists. In the largest retrospective of her work to date, DESTINY marks the artist’s first solo show in over 15 years. Featuring more than 100 multi-disciplinary works made over a 30-year period, the exhibition includes the premiere of newly-commissioned works. Numerous early video works created with the late Wiradjuri / Kamilaroi photographer Michael Riley and West Australian performance artist Erin Hefferon are also on display.

A descendant of the Kuku and Erub / Mer people from Far North Queensland and Torres Strait, Deacon is internationally known for a body of work depicting her darkly comic, idiosyncratic worldview. Offering a nuanced, thoughtful and, at times, intensely funny snapshot of contemporary Australian life, Deacon reminds us that ‘serious’ art can also have a sense of humour.

Melbourne-based, Deacon works across photography, video, sculpture and installation to explore dichotomies such as childhood and adulthood, comedy and tragedy, and theft and reclamation. Her chaotic worlds, where disgraced dolls play out sinister scenes for audience amusement, subvert cultural phenomena to reflect and parody the environments around us.

 

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's 'Abi see da classroom' 2006

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Abi see da classroom 2006 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Abi see da classroom' 2006 (still)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Abi see da classroom' 2006 (still)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Abi see da classroom' 2006 (still)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Virginia Fraser (Australian, d. 2021)
Abi see da classroom (stills)
2006
10 min. sound
National Gallery of Victoria
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Abi see da classroom

For the fiftieth anniversary of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), Destiny Deacon and her long-time collaborator Virginia Fraser were given unrestricted access to the ABC’s archive, possibly the most significant collection of film and television held in Australia. By searching for any keywords that started with ‘Aborigin’ they were able to uncover a large assortment of videos.

In this installation, two CRT television screens play alongside each other, creating a mashup of noise and black-and-white moving images. The television on the right shows archival footage of Aboriginal children attending school, reading and playing musical instruments, while the television on the left presents a series of short clips of people in varying degrees of blackface. Switching from uncomfortable to distasteful, to overtly racist, the two channels juxtapose extreme versions of how Aboriginal people have historically been depicted on television. The footage is problematic and offensive; though, some might say ‘it was a different time’. The flashback to the 1950s prompts audiences to consider Australia’s legacy of televised racism and poses the question: how far have we actually come?

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Blak lik mi' 1991

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Blak lik mi 1991 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Blak lik mi' 1991

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Blak lik mi
1991, printed 1995
Exhibition version printed 202
Colour laser print from Polaroid original
80.0 x 100.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Blak lik mi

Historically photography has been used as a tool to categorise and document Aboriginal people and their lives. In this work Destiny Deacon reclaims three images taken from a 1960s reproduction of a 1957 Axel Poignant photograph, from his photo essay, originally titled Picaninny Walkabout, later renamed Bush Walkabout. Deacon turns the colonial gaze back on the coloniser, photographing the photograph, and subverting her position as both subject and photographer.

The title Blak lik mi is a reference to John Howard Griffin’s autobiographical novel, Black Like Me, in which Griffin took large doses of an anti-vitiligo drug and spent hour daily under an ultraviolet lamp in order to change the appearance of his skin so that he ‘passed’ as Black. Deacon’s work offers a window into her own interrogation about what constitutes her Aboriginal identity. On this, Deacon often jokes that she ‘took the c, out of black little c**t’. Rude words beginning with ‘c’, of which there are many, are often used as offensive slights, and Deacon recalls being taunted with these words as a child.

‘Blak’, unlike ‘Black’, was Deacon’s way of self-determining her identity, and originating a version of the self that comes entirely from within. The legacy of this work has been massive. Countless Aboriginal people now self-determine their identity as Blak, so much so that a Google search of ‘Blak’ returns a nearly all Australian Indigenous search result.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Me and Virginia’s doll (Me and Carol) 1997 at left, Last laughs 1995 at centre, and Where’s Mickey 2002 at right, on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Me and Virginia's doll (Me and Carol)' 1997

 

Destiny Deacon (Australian, Kuku/Erub/Mer b. 1957)
Me and Virginia’s doll (Me and Carol)
1997, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original

 

 

Destiny Deacon began her professional career in photography in her late thirties as a way to express herself and her political beliefs. A self-taught artist, Deacon is primarily known for her photographs and videos where she subverts familiar icons with humour and wit. Often when Deacon photographs people she poses them like paintings. In this image, Deacon presents herself as Frida, staging the image as an homage to Kahlo’s 1937 painting Me and my doll.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Last laughs' 1995

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Last laughs
1995
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In this image Deacon both reclaims and ridicules a genre of colonial photography, which historically depicted Aboriginal women as a highly sexualised or exotic ‘other’. In the nineteenth century it was commonplace for Aboriginal women to appear naked in ethnographic photographs that were mass reproduced and distributed as souvenirs around the world. In Last laughs three Blak women pose for the camera, limbs intertwined, performing their sexuality. Unlike in the colonial photography it references, the subjects in this work are the ones in control.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Where's Mickey?' 2002

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Where’s Mickey?
2002, printed 2016
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Where’s Mickey? plays on the Australian slang phrase ‘Mickey Mouse’, used to refer to something that is substandard, poorly executed or amateurish. Mickey Mouse is also the archetypal figure of an (often white) American consumerist culture. In this portrait of Luke Captain, Deacon pokes fun at the cartoon icon, suggesting his animated spirit has possessed the body of an Aboriginal Australian man, who is dressed as a woman.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left, Where’s Mickey? 2002, and at right Meloncholy 2000
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Meloncholy' 2000

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Meloncholy
2000
From the Sad & Bad series
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In 1970 African-American film director, Melvin Van Peebles released Watermelon Man, a movie in which a fictional, white insurance salesman wakes up one morning only  to discover he has turned Black overnight. The film is inspired by John Howard Griffin’s autobiographical novel, Black Like Me. In this image Deacon gives the watermelon a double meaning. The emptied peel of the melon cradles the doll’s body, kind of like the coolamon [Coolamon is an anglicised NSW Aboriginal word used to describe an Australian Aboriginal carrying vessel], but it is also a fruit that has been severed from its skin. She challenges the relationship between identity, skin colour, and how the world perceives and responds to both Blackness and Blakness.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Adoption' 2000 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Adoption (installation view)
2000; printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016; copy printed 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In this image Destiny Deacon has placed a collection of plastic, black toy babies into paper cupcake shells. Titled Adoption, this work directly references Australia’s shameful history of government-sanctioned Aboriginal child removal. In addition, Adoption also pokes fun at the deeply offensive misnomer of the nineteenth century that Aboriginal mothers were both infanticidal, as well as cannibals of their newborns. Deacon describes how she came to collect dolls, saying ‘in the beginning I wanted to rescue them, because otherwise they’d end up in a white home or something, somewhere no one would appreciate them’.

 

 

Destiny Deacon, one of Australia’s boldest and most acclaimed contemporary artists, will be celebrated in her largest retrospective to date opening at the National Gallery of Victoria on 23 November 2020.

DESTINY will mark Deacon’s first solo show in over 15 years, featuring more than 100 multi-disciplinary works made over a 30-year period, and including the premiere of newly-commissioned works created with the artist and her long-term collaborator Virginia Fraser. The exhibition will also feature a number of early video works created with the late Wiradjuri / Kamilaroi photographer Michael Riley and West Australian performance artist Erin Hefferon.

A descendant of the Kuku and Erub / Mer people from Far North Queensland and Torres Strait, Deacon is internationally known for a body of work depicting her darkly comic, idiosyncratic world view. Offering a nuanced, thoughtful and, at times, intensely funny snapshot of contemporary Australian life, Deacon reminds us that art can have both pathos and humour.

Melbourne-based, Deacon works across photography, video, sculpture, and installation to explore dichotomies such as childhood and adulthood, comedy and tragedy, and theft and reclamation. Her chaotic worlds, where disgraced dolls play out sinister scenes for audience amusement, subvert cultural phenomena to reflect and parody the environments around us.

Featuring early videos which mock negative stereotypes of Aboriginal Australians – Home video 1987, Welcome to my Koori world 1992, I don’t wanna be a bludger 1999 – the exhibition will also feature an installation of a lounge room housing Deacon’s own collection of ‘Koori kitsch’. Deacon and Fraser’s highly acclaimed installation Colourblinded 2005 will also be on display. A powerful combination of photographs, sculptures, and video projections, this interactive work leaves the viewer both literally and metaphorically ‘colourblinded’.

“Featuring new NGV commissions and some of the highlights of Deacon’s 30-year career, the retrospective DESTINY pays tribute to an artist who has been challenging audiences for more than 30 years,” said Tony Ellwood AM, Director, National Gallery of Victoria. “Destiny Deacon has never shied away from confronting our country’s difficult history and her work continues to make a vital contribution to Australian cultural discourse,” said Ellwood.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at second right, Meloncholy 2000 and at right, Over the fence 2000
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Over the fence' 2000 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Over the fence (installation view)
2000, printed 2000
Exhibition version printed 2020
From the Sad & Bad series
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The nostalgic qualities in Deacon’s poignant photograph Over the fence reinforce a narrative familiar to many Aboriginal people. Two segregated dollies peer at each other across a suburban, wooden fence, leaving the audience wondering who is fenced in, and who is fenced out? The image illustrates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality towards race, which many Aboriginal people would recognise beneath this seemingly ‘friendly’ neighbourhood encounter.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Portrait of Peter Blazey, writer' 2004 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Portrait of Peter Blazey, writer (installation view)
2004, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Peter Blazey, journalist, author and gay activist.

Blazey was born in Melbourne in 1939 and worked for The Australian, the National Times and as a regular columnist for OutRage, a gay magazine. He published a number of books, including a political biography of Henry Bolte, and was co-editor of the short fiction anthology, Love Cries. His personal memoir, Screw Loose, appeared after his death from AIDS in 1997.

“Peter was someone with a lion’s head of loose ends that could never fit into some ideologically sound and tidy space. Storyteller, mythomane, and one of the last great conversationalists in a country wary of the free flow of uncensored language, he was a comet who flashed his tail at everyone.” – Tim Herbert, OutRage, 1997.

Text from the University of Melbourne Scholarship website [Online] Cited 29/01/2021

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Portrait of Gary Foley, activist' 1995 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Portrait of Gary Foley, activist (installation view)
1995, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Often in Deacon’s portrait photography, sitters are posed like those in paintings. In these three images, Deacon presents Gary Foley, an Aboriginal Gumbainggir activist, academic, writer and actor; Peter Blazey, the late journalist, author and gay activist; and Richard Bell, and activist and artist of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities. All three men are posed in a near identical way to the 1932 painting The boy at the basin by Australian landscape and portrait artist William Dobell.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'My boomerang did come back' 2003 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
My boomerang did come back (installation view)
2003, printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'My boomerang did come back' 2003

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
My boomerang did come back
2003, printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

This image is a reference to Charlie Drake’s 1961 song ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back’. Drake sings in a halting and staccato manner, wildly grunting ‘ho’ and ‘ugh’ as he narrates the story of an effeminate young Aboriginal boy named Mac, who has been banished from his tribe because he is ‘a big disgrace to the Aborigine [sic] race’ because his ‘boomerang won’t come back’. A single hand (Lisa Bellear’s) reachers upward, grasping a bloody boomerang in front of a black background. Deacon suggests that Drake, whose song is at best a kind of vaudevillian blackface, has assassinated himself.

 

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Hear come the judge (installation view)
2006
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Deacon references the 1968 comedic funk song ‘Here Comes the Judge’ by American entertained Dewey ‘Pigmeat’ Markham, which is regarded by many to be the first recorded hip-hop song. Markham’s lyrics ridicule the formalities of courtroom etiquette by painting a picture of a make-believe world where justice is in the hands of Black people. Deacon’s photograph uses humour to disarm and interrogate something that is inherently unfunny. The Blak / Black judge is only comical because it is supposedly unbelievable, a notion Deacon challenges audiences to reconsider.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Border patrol' 2006 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Border patrol (installation view)
2006, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“And they figured a dispossessed people as racial types, suggesting that authentic Aboriginal identity was purely tribal and something to be trivialised as curios and knick-knacks…

But the figurines of a racialised people, of warriors, beautiful girls and adorable children, took this interest into a different realm of curiosity, namely objectification.

Elder women, who were often savagely vilified in popular newspapers as “unsightly frights”, never appear among these figurines. Lithe young women, deep-chested warrior tribesmen, dignified elder “noble savages” and sweetly smiling “piccaninnies” were particularly prized. In the early prints of artists Peg Maltby and Brownie Downing, endearing Aboriginal children are orphaned by the bush rather than being at home in the country of their birthright. They find playmates with baby native animals but are divested of family and community. They seem to be crying out for the care that only the state, it was thought, could properly provide. …

The figures found in Aboriginalia evoke a troubling presence, in which visual appeal, sometimes libidinal, stands in for the profound ambivalence at the heart of settler-colonialism, which has benefited from the violent dispossession of a people.

While townships were campaigning to exclude Aboriginal kids from schools, families from housing and adults from pubs, these nostalgic, perplexing images were being taken into white homes in the form of bric-a-brac.

Sociologist Adrian Franklin has described the “semiotic drenching” of souvenirs with Aboriginal motifs and argues “these objects became ‘repositories of recognition’ of what was often entirely absent, denied or undermined in the everyday political and policy spheres”.

These objects, he suggests, gave some expression to the sadness surrounding dispossession and removal. In more recent years, Indigenous artists such as Destiny Deacon and Tony Albert have repurposed Aboriginalia.

Thus it is finally being historicised, interpreted and recast through Aboriginal eyes.

Deacon uses dolls and kitsch ephemera from her own extensive collection to turn the tables on the uncritical consumption of racist imagery. In one of her best backhanders, she puts plastic, black babies in cupcake shells and titles the photograph Adoption.”

Extract from Dr Liz Conor. “Friday essay: the politics of Aboriginal kitsch,” on The Conversation website March 3, 2017 [Online] Cited 29/01/2021 CC

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right Border patrol 2006
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at second left, Heart broken 2006, and at fourth from left,
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Heart broken' 2006

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Heart broken
2006
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Ask your mother for sixpence' 1995

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Ask your mother for sixpence
1995
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist © Destiny Deacon

 

 

This image takes its name from a cheeky nursery rhyme Deacon recalls learning when living in Port Melbourne as a child. The playful limerick teases audiences with the threat of a rude word: ‘Ask your mum for sixpence, to see the big giraffe, pimples on his whiskers, and pimples on his – ask your mum for sixpence’. The work was originally displayed in juxtaposition with a photograph of a half-built Crown Casino in Melbourne, challenging audiences to consider the dynamic between the main character, a Blak woman working in service sweeping up coins, and the multinational gambling corporation.

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley's 'I don't wanna be a bludger' 1999

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley's 'I don't wanna be a bludger' 1999

 

Installation views of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley’s I don’t wanna be a bludger 1999 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020. Photos: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley's 'I don't wanna be a bludger' 1999

 

Wall text

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 with at left, Whitey’s watching 1994; and at right, Moomba princess and Moomba princeling (both 2004)
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at centre, Moomba princess and Moomba princeling (both 2004), and at right Thought cone (A-F) 1997
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Moomba princess' 2004 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Moomba princess (installation view)
2004, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Moomba princess and Moomba princeling show Deacon’s young niece and nephew dressed in the robes and regalia of Moomba sovereigns. Moomba is an annual parade and community festival held in Melbourne, which each year crowns a ‘Moomba monarch’. The portraits reference Elizabethan Armada portraiture, a style of painting which first depicted the Tudor queen seated in royal garb and surrounded by symbols against a backdrop depicting the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. At first glance, the Moomba portraits can be read as innocent children playing dress ups, but by presenting two Aboriginal models in this type of colonial ceremonial dress, Deacon challenges audiences to consider the legacy and impact of British invasion.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Moomba princeling' 2004 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Moomba princeling (installation view)
2004, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Thought cone (A-F) 1997 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Thought cone (A-F) 1997 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Thought cone (A-F) (installation view details)
1997, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Whitey's watching' 1994

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Whitey’s watching 1994 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Whitey’s watching 1994 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For more than thirty years Destiny Deacon has forged a path as an international artist with a distinct brand of artistic humour unlike any other. Descended from the Kuku and Erub / Mer peoples of Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait, Deacon has been living and working in Melbourne since she arrived here as a small child.

Deacon’s work sits in the uncomfortable but compelling space between comedy and tragedy, and contrasts seemingly innocuous childhood imagery with scenes from the dark side of adulthood. She actively resists interpretation and so called ‘art speak’, instead choosing to let her work speak for itself. The more we look, the greater we understand that the world Deacon conjures is a complex one. Drawing from her vast collection of Aboriginalia, Deacon interrogates the way in which Aboriginal people have been, and continue to be, misrepresented within popular culture. Decapitated, amputated, pants down, tied up, trapped in a blizzard or flying through the air, the characters in Deacon’s world both reflect and parody the one in which we live.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right, Regal eagles (A-B) 1994
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Regal eagles (A-B)' 1994 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Regal eagles (A-B)' 1994 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Regal eagles (A-B)' 1994 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Regal eagles (A-B) (installation views)
1994, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Academic, historian and Indigenous rights activist Marcia Langton once described Destiny Deacon’s work as a ‘barometer of postcolonial anxiety’. This diptych combines two congruent images: the photo on the left shows a pair of young, white boys holding plastic Union Jacks and eating in front of a disregarded, spread-eagled Black doll. The image on the right shows another Black dolly in a Koori flag T-shirt pinned onto a board surrounded by appropriated Aboriginalia. As always in Deacon’s work, the dolls possess a liveliness and personality, making the violence enacted on to them all the more confronting.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Melbourne Noir 2013
Photos: Tom Ross

 

 

Adapting the quotidian formats of snapshot photography, home videos, community TV and performance modes drawn from vaudeville and minstrel shows, Deacon’s artistic practice is marked by a wicked yet melancholy comedic and satirical disposition. In decidedly lo-fi vignettes, friends, family and members of Melbourne’s Indigenous community appear in mischievous narratives that amplify and deconstruct stereotypes of Indigenous identity and national history. For Melbourne Now, Deacon and Fraser present a trailer for a film noir that does not exist, a suite of photographs and a carnivalesque diorama. The pair’s playful political critiques underscore a prevailing sense of postcolonial unease, while connecting their work to wider global discourses concerned with racial struggle and cultural identity.

Text from Exhibition: ‘Melbourne Now’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Part 1

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's 'Melbourne Noir' 2013

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Melbourne Noir 2013
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

Digital prints, Digital prints on plywood, wood, gelatin silver photographs, high-definition video, sound
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing in the foreground Snow storm 2005
Photos: Tom Ross

Colour Blinded

Man & doll (a)
Man & doll (b)
Man & doll (c)
Baby boomer
Back up
Pacified
2005, printed 2020
Lightfoot print from orthochromatic film negative

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Virginia Fraser (Australian)
Snow storm (installation views)
2005
Golliwogs, polystyrene and perspex cube
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Man & doll' 2005 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Man & doll' 2005 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Man & doll (installation view details)
2005, printed 2020
Lightfoot print from orthochromatic film negative
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Koori lounge room 2021
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Koori lounge room 2021
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Ebony and Ivy face race' 2016 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Ebony and Ivy face race (installation view)
2016, printed 2020
Lightjet print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Sand minding / Sand grabs (installation views)
2017, printed 2020
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

More than half of all mining projects in Australia are in close proximity to Indigenous communities. This relationship has long been, and continues to be, the source of much debate. In this work Deacon condemns the violence committed by the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its people. A latex-gloved hand makes an incision in a bag of soil, destructively releasing the sand inside. The white hand grasps the contents and takes a handful. Two disturbing characters look on with a seemingly perplexed expression, perhaps inviting us to consider the consequences of mining.

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left, Arrears windows 2009; at centre, Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017; and in the background Koori lounge room 2021

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Arrears windows' 2009

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Arrears windows
2009
From the series Gazette
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
60.0 x 80.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Gazette

Gossip walks
Look out!
Action men
Arrears windows
Come on in my kitchen

In 2009 Deacon produced the series Gazette. These now eerily familiar scenes appear like vignettes, offering windows into the lives of those living inside Melbourne’s public housing towers. Recent scenes from the news are echoed in Arrears windows, which shows Deacon’s collection of black and brown dolls crammed into yellow plastic tubs. The series draws attention to the individual lives and struggles of residents within these buildings, while also reminding viewers of the often-overcrowded conditions these residents live in. Each image brings to light Deacon’s idiosyncratic take on current global and national events with her semi-autobiographical edge.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Action men' 2009

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Action men
2009
From the series Gazette
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
80.0 x 60cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Dolly eyes (A-H)
2020
Lightjet print
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A doll with piercing blue eyes and dark brown skin is among the unblinking, manic faces that make up Destiny Deacon’s most recent series, Dolly Eyes, 2020. While people of colour can and do have an array of different-coloured eyes, blue eyes are often seen as a signifier of whiteness. Deacon’s tightly cropped images reduce these dollies to just eyes and skin tone, highlighting the problematic nature of using physical features to signify of racial identity.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly lips (A-E)' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Dolly lips (A-E)
2017, printed 2020
Lightjet print
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Dolly lips extracts surprising expressions from some of Deacon’s regular models. Some of these dolls have been posing for Deacon for decades, but these sensitive and suggestive images show them in a new light.

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Smile' 2017

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Smile 2017 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Smile' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Smile
2017
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Deacon undercuts our trust in the innocuous smiley face emoji and prompts the viewer to look more closely at the everyday symbols that proliferate in our lives. The dolls appear decapitated, but perhaps even more ominously the disembodied heads are actually poking through a yellow sheet. Deacon uses an op-shop boomerang to complete the smile. When broken down, the individual features that make up the happy face are all racially charged. However, when viewed at a glance, all people see is the familiar smiley face emoji.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Oz Games – Under the spell of the tall poppies' 1998

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Oz Games – Under the spell of the tall poppies
1998
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Deacon produced Oz, a series of works parodying the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. In the original film, Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farmhouse in Kansas to the magical land of Oz. In this series, Deacon transforms the journey undertaken by the original characters into a contemporary recognition of Aboriginality. Dorothy, now known as the ‘traveller’, appears alongside a ‘sad’ tin man, a ‘slow’ scarecrow in blackface and a ‘scared’ cowardly lion. The character’s quest for self-realisation resembles the personal journeys many Aboriginal people go through every day.

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right, On reflection 2019

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'On reflection' 2019

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
On reflection
2019
Lightjet print
100.0 x 80.0cm
Collection of the artist
© Destiny Deacon, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Escape – From the whacking spoon' 2007

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Escape – From the whacking spoon
2007
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Whacked

Escape – from the whacking spoon
Whacked to sleep (B)
Fence sitters (A)
The goodie hoodie family
Waiting for the bust
Whacked & coming home

2007, printed 2020
Lightjet print

This series of photographs references familiar imagery from news media and contemporary culture, making a link between themes of terrorism, surveillance, suppression and Australian nationalism. Playing with stereotypes, Deacon and her friends have masked themselves in long johns with disturbing painted faces. The images use sinister humour to highlight shared similarities between fanatics around the world.

 

Installation view of 'Postcards from Mummy' 1998

Installation view of 'Postcards from Mummy' 1998

 

Installation view of Postcards from Mummy 1998 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left Dolly eyes (A-H) 2020; and at right, Blak 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Throughout her career, this cast of characters has become central to Deacon’s practice, as has her subversive use of language. For Deacon, language, and in particular spelling, has provided an opportunity to reframe and assert her identity on her own terms. In its deceptive simplicity the recasting of ‘Black’ to ‘Blak’ resonated with Aboriginal communities everywhere. What started as Deacon asserting her personal identity as a Kuku / Erub / Mer woman, has since morphed into a Community-owned declaration of Aboriginal pride. It is fitting to conclude this exhibition with a singular photographic work: the letters b-l-a-k emblazoned across the surface with seventeen of Deacon’s regular dolly models.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Blak' 2020 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Blak (installation view)
2020
Light jet print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

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14
Aug
20

Pamphlet: ‘Australian Aboriginal Art’ with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon, National Museum of Victoria, 1952

August 2020

 

Cover of the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon 1952

 

Unknown artist. Cover of the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art, National Museum of Victoria, 1952

 

 

I found this rare pamphlet in an op shop (charity shop). I have decided to publish it on Art Blart as part of a historical record, so that it is available to researchers into Indigenous Australian culture and art. While I believe that the text and images contain no information of secret sacred importance, if anyone has any concerns please contact me at bunyanth@netspace.net.au.

What is fascinating about the text is that it was originally published by the National Museum of Victoria in 1929, and then reprinted verbatim for this pamphlet in 1952. In other words, no new scholarship had taken place in the intervening 23 years that was noteworthy enough for the Museum to feel it needed to update the text. Other interesting facts are that Aboriginal Art was housed within the Australian Ethnology section, art as an outcome of the study of the characteristics of different people, and that it was known as “primitive art” made by “primitive peoples”. Even the National Gallery of Australia had a “primitive art” gallery up until the 1980s!

Of course, the texts are of their time. In the first text “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett, he questions the quality, authenticity and age of the rock paintings at Mootwingee – whether they are a few centuries old or of old antiquity it – and apparently, it makes no difference. Barrett then praises the magic making art of Indigenous Australians, while at the same time encouraging us to look upon their art as merely pictures (Barrett, p. 11). He seems to be equally attracted and repulsed by “primitive art”, as an expression of man’s artistic tendency, in cave paintings and rock-carvings whose forms are grotesque and even repulsive.

Barrett admits that their finest decorations, on weapons and sacred objects, are magic: “Here is a magic truly; no “Art for Art’s sake.” (Barrett, p. 12). And then in the next paragraph, while extolling that we should have more interest in the Australian race, and learn its culture, he announces that Indigenous Australians are “living fossils” and are failing. Using the terminology of Edward S. Curtis (who photographed the First Nations Peoples of America in the early 20th century), they are The Vanishing Race (1904), the title of his photograph of Navajo riding off into an indeterminate distance. Destined for extinction. Further, Barrett states that every “relic” of the Aboriginals is worth preserving, as though all Indigenous people were already a historical artefact, no longer living. The use of the word relic is informative: its derivation comes from Old French relique (originally plural), from Latin reliquiae, the latter mid 17th century Latin, feminine plural (used as a noun) of reliquus ‘remaining’, based on linquere ‘to leave’. In other words, they remain and leave at one and the same time, the remainder only a husk of the original.

In the second text “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon, the researcher and psychologist into Indigenous art is urged, indeed must, divest themselves of all civilised conceptions and mentality and assume those of a prehistoric man – or that of a child. “Prior or the British settlement of Eastern Australia – to be precise, prior to Governor Phillip establishing his colony at Port Jackson, there appears to be no record of aboriginal paintings or carvings.” (A.S. Kenyon, p. 22) What Kenyon seems to be suggesting is that it is only through the influence of the “civilised” Europeans that Indigenous Australians begin painting and carving. A description of the various representational techniques of Indigenous Australian art making follows, the art divided into two classes: fixed and portable. “In the first class, those of fixed objects, we have (a) rock-paintings; (b) rock-carvings; (c) tree-carvings; (d) tree-paintings; (e) ground-paintings; (f) ground-models. In the second, or portable class, there are (a) figures or models; (b) weapons, implements and utensils, decorated either by painting or carving; (c) ceremonial objects; (d) ornaments or personal adornment; (e) bark-paintings. (A.S. Kenyon, p. 27)

I believe it is important to have these texts (which are less than 100 years old), and the paradoxical historical attitudes towards Australian Indigenous culture and art they contain, published online. The pamphlet recognises Aboriginal culture yet also rules a ledger under it. (Professor Tom Griffiths’ observations on Geoffrey Blainey’s book Triumph of the Nomads). The attitude was that while this “primitive art” was worthy of study, ultimately it belonged to an archaic, fragile culture which was destined to be consigned to history.

I am so glad that this spiritual culture (and the changing Western understanding of Australian Indigenous art and culture) has proved the authors wrong.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Title page of the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon 1952

 

Title page of the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952

 

Preface of the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon 1952

 

Preface of the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 5

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 6-7

 

Mootwingee Rock Carvings

 

Unknown photographer. “Mootwingee Rock Carvings. Pecked Type,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 6

 

Great Rock Shelter at Mootwingee, New South Wales

 

Unknown photographer. “Great Rock Shelter at Mootwingee, New South Wales,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 7

 

Rock Engraving, Mootwingee

 

Unknown photographer. “Rock Engraving, Mootwingee,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 7

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 8-9

 

from North Queensland

 

“Painted Shields from North Queensland,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 9

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 10-11

 

Bark Drawing. Northern Territory. Native in canoe spearing crocodile

 

“Bark Drawing. Northern Territory. Native in canoe spearing crocodile,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 11

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 12-13

 

Rock Painting, South Africa

 

“Rock Painting, South Africa,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 12

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 14-15

 

 

“Native Corroboree. Drawn by Tommy Barnes, a Mission Aboriginal, showing European influence,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 14.

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 16-17

 

Prehistoric Rock Painting, Spain. Showing superimposed figures

 

“Prehistoric Rock Painting, Spain. Showing superimposed figures,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 16

 

Stone Churingas from Central Australia. Showing symbolic and totemic figures

 

“Stone Churingas from Central Australia. Showing symbolic and totemic figures,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 17

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 18-19

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 20-21

 

Rock Paintings. Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. Superimposed figures

 

“Rock Paintings. Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. Superimposed figures,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 21

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 22-23

 

Bark drawing representing Settler's Homestead, Lake Tyrrell, Victoria

 

“Bark drawing representing Settler’s Homestead, Lake Tyrrell, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 23

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 24-25

 

Rock Carvings, Port Jackson, New South Wales. Grooved type

 

“Rock Carvings, Port Jackson, New South Wales. Grooved type,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 25

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 26-27

 

Rock Painting, Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. From Bradshaw's original sketch

 

“Rock Painting, Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. From Bradshaw’s original sketch,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 26

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 28-29

 

Stencilled Hands in the Cave of Hands, Victoria Range, Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. “Stencilled Hands in the Cave of Hands, Victoria Range, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 29

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 30-31

 

Rock Painting, Cave of the Serpent, Langi Ghiran, Victoria

 

“Rock Painting, Cave of the Serpent, Langi Ghiran, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 30

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 32-33

 

Carved Tree. From a photograph by Edmund Milne

 

Edmund Milne. “Carved Tree. From a photograph by Edmund Milne,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 32

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 34-35

 

Decorated Shields, Carved and Painted

 

“Decorated Shields, Carved and Painted,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 34

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 36-37

 

Painted Bark Bags, Northern Territory

 

“Painted Bark Bags, Northern Territory,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 36

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 38-39

 

Bark Paintings, Alligator River, Northern Territory

 

“Bark Paintings, Alligator River, Northern Territory,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 38

 

Making Tracings of Rock Paintings, Glen Isla Rock Shelter, Victoria Range, Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. “Making Tracings of Rock Paintings, Glen Isla Rock Shelter, Victoria Range, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 39

 

 

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31
Oct
19

Text and photos: Marcus Bunyan. “Punk jacket,” in Chris Brickell and Judith Collard (eds.,). ‘Queer Objects’ MUP, 2019

November 2019

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Self-portrait with punk jacket and The Jesus and Mary Chain T-shirt' 1992

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Self-portrait with punk jacket and The Jesus and Mary Chain T-shirt
1992
Gelatin silver print
© Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Many thankx to University of Otago academics Chris Brickell and Judith Collard for inviting me to write a chapter for this important book… about my glorious punk jacket of the late 1980s (with HIV/AIDS pink triangle c. 1989). Aaah, the memories!

Please come along to the Australian launch of the book at Hares Hyenas bookshop (63 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne) on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 at 6pm – 7.30pm. The book is to be launched by Jason Smith (Director Geelong Gallery). Click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Marcus

 

 

“Gay and lesbian identity (and, by extension, queer identity) is predicated on the idea that, as sexualities, they are invisible, because sexuality is not a visible identity in the ways that race or sex are visible. Only by means of individual expression are gay and lesbian sexualities made discernible.”

.
Ari Hakkarainen. “‘The Urgency of Resistance’: Rehearsals of Death in the Photography of David Wojnarowicz” 2018

 

 

Punk Jacket

 

I arrived in Melbourne in August 1986 after living and partying in London for 11 years. I had fallen in love with an Australian skinhead boy in 1985. After we had been together for a year and a half together his visa was going to expire and he had to leave Britain to avoid deportation. So I gave up my job, packed up my belongings and went to Australia. All for love.

We landed in Melbourne after a 23-hour flight and I was driven down Swanston Street, the main drag (which in those days was open to traffic) and I was told this was it; this was the centre of the city. Bought at a milk bar, the Australian version of the corner shop, the first thing I ever ate in this new land was a Violet Crumble, the Oz equivalent of a Crunchie. Everything was so strange: the light, the sounds, the countryside.

I felt alienated. My partner had all his friends and I was in a strange land on my own. I was homesick but stuck it out. As you could in those days, I applied for gay de facto partnership status and got my permanent residency. But it did not last and we parted ways. Strange to say, though, I did not go back to England: there was an opportunity for a better life in Australia. I began a photography course and then went to university. I became an artist, which I have now been for over 30 years.

Melbourne was totally different then from the international city of today: no café culture, no big events, no shopping on Sundays, everything shut down early. At first living there was a real culture shock. I was the only gay man in town who had tattoos and a shaved head, who wore Fred Perrys, braces and Doc Martens. All the other gay men seemed to be stuck in the New Romantics era. In 1988 I walked into the Xchange Hotel on Commercial Road, then one of the pubs on the city’s main gay drag, and said to the manager, Craig, ‘I’m hungry, I’m starving, give me a job’, or words to that effect. He thought a straight skinhead had come to rob the place, but he gave me a job, sweet man. He later died of AIDS.

I went to my first Mardi Gras in Sydney the same year, when the party after the parade was in the one pavilion, the Horden at the showgrounds, and there were only 3000 people there. I loved it. Two men, both artists who lived out in Newtown, picked me up and I spent the rest of the weekend with them, having a fine old time. I still have the gift Ian gave me from his company, Riffin Drill, the name scratched on the back of the brass belt buckle that was his present. I returned the next year and the party was bigger. I ventured out to Newtown during the day, when the area was a haven for alternatives, punks and deviants (not like it is now, all gentrified and bland) and found an old second-hand shop quite a way up from the train station. And there was the leather jacket, unadorned save for the red lapels. It fitted like a glove. Somehow it made its way back with me to Melbourne. Surprise, surprise!

Then I started making the jacket my own. Studs were added to the red of the lapel and to the lower tail at the back of the jacket with my initials MAB (or MAD as I frequently referred to myself) as part of the design. A large, Gothic Alchemy patch with dragon and cross surrounded by hand-painted designs by my best mate and artist, Frederick White, finished the back of the jacket. Slogans such as ‘One Way System,’ ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ and ‘Anarchy’ were stencilled to both arms and the front of the jacket; cloth patches were pinned or studded to the front and sides: Doc Martens, Union Jack, Southern Cross … and Greenpeace. I added metal badges from the leather bar, The Gauntlet, and a British Skins badge with a Union Jack had pride of place on the red lapel. And then there was one very special homemade badge. Made out of a bit of strong fabric and coloured using felt-tip pens, it was attached with safety pins to the left arm. It was, and still is, a pink triangle. And in grey capital letters written in my own hand, it says, using the words of the Latin proverb, ‘SILENCE IS THE VOICE OF COMPLICITY’.

I have been unable to find this slogan anywhere else in HIV/AIDS material, but that is not to say it has not been used. This was my take on the Silence = Death Collective’s protest poster of a pink triangle with those same words, ‘Silence = Death’ underneath, one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolise the Aids activist movement. Avram Finkelstein, a member of the collective who designed the poster, comments eloquently on the weight of the meaning of ‘silence’: ‘Institutionally, silence is about control. Personally, silence is about complicity.’1 In a strange synchronicity, in 1989 I inverted the pink triangle of the ‘Silence = Death’ poster so that it resembled the pink triangle used to identify gay (male) prisoners sent to Nazi concentration camps because of their homosexuality; the Pink Triangles were considered the ‘lowest’ and ‘most insignificant’ prisoners. It is estimated that the Nazis killed up to 15,000 homosexuals in concentration camps. Only in 2018, when writing this piece, did I learn that Avram Finkelstein was a Jew. He relates both variants of the pink triangle to complicity because ‘when you see something happening and you are silent, you are participating in it, whether you want to or not, whether you know it or not’.2

Finishing the jacket was a labour of love that took several years to reach its final state of being. I usually wore it with my brown, moth-eaten punk jumper, bought off a friend who found it behind a concert stage. Chains and an eagle adorned the front of it, with safety pins holding it all together. On the back was a swastika made out of safety pins, to which I promptly added the word ‘No’ above the symbol, using more safety pins, making my political and social allegiances very clear. Both the jumper and the jacket have both been donated to the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

By 1993 I had a new boyfriend and was at the beginning of a 12-year relationship that would be the longest of my life. We were both into skinhead and punk gear, my partner having studied fashion design with Vivienne Westwood in London. We used to walk around Melbourne dressed up in our gear, including the jacket, holding hands on trams and trains, on the bus and in the street. Australia was then such a conservative country, even in the populated cities, and our undoubtedly provocative actions challenged prevailing stereotypes of masculinity. We wore our SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) T-shirts with pride and opposed any form of racism, particularly from neo-fascists.3

Why did we like the punk and skinhead look so much? For me, it had links to my working-class roots growing up in Britain. I liked the butch masculinity of the shaved head and the Mohawk, the tattoos, braces, Docs and Perrys – but I hated the racist politics of straight skinheads. ‘SHARPs draw inspiration from the biracial origins of the skinhead subculture … [they] dress to project an image that looks hard and smart, in an evolving continuity with style ideals established in the middle-to-late 1960s. They remain true to the style’s original purpose of enjoying life, clothes, attitude and music. This does not include blanket hatred of other people based on their skin colour.’4

By the very fact of being a ‘gay’ punk and skinhead, too, I was effectively subverting the status quo: the hetero-normative, white patriarchal society much in evidence in Australia at the time. I was subverting a stereotypical masculinity, that of the straight skinhead, by turning it ‘queer’. Murray Healy’s excellent book, Gay Skins: Class, Masculinity and Queer Appropriation, was critical to my understanding of what I was doing intuitively. Healy looks into the myths and misapprehensions surrounding gay skins by exploring fascism, fetishism, class, sexuality and gender. Queer undercurrents ran through skinhead culture, and shaven heads, shiny DMs and tight Levis fed into fantasies and fetishes based on notions of hyper-masculinity. But Healy puts the boot into those myths of masculinity and challenges assumptions about class, queerness and real men. Tracing the historical development of the gay skin from 1968, he assesses what gay men have done to the hardest cult of them all. He asks how they transformed the gay scene in Britain and then around the world, and observes that the ‘previously sublimated queerness of working class youth culture was aggressively foregrounded in punk. Punk harnessed the energies of an underclass dissatisfied with a sanitised consumer youth culture, and it was from the realm of dangerous sexualities that it appropriated its shocking signifiers.’5 There is now a whole cult of gay men who like nothing better than displaying their transformative sexuality by shaving their heads and putting on their Docs to go down the pub for a few drinks. Supposedly as hard as nails and as gay as fuck, the look is more than a costume, as much leatherwear has become in recent years: it is a spiritual attitude and a way of life. It can also signify a vulnerable persona open to connection, passion, tenderness and togetherness.

In 1992 I took this spiritual belonging to a tribe to a new level. For years I had suffered from depression and self-harm, cutting my arms with razor blades. Now, in an act of positive energy and self-healing, skinhead friend Glenn performed three and a half hours of cutting on my right arm as a form of tribal scarification. There was no pain: I divorced my mind from my body and went on a journey, a form of astral travel. It was the most spiritual experience of my life. Afterwards we both needed a drink, so we put on our gear and went down to the Exchange Hotel on Oxford Street in Sydney with blood still coming from my arm. I know the queens were shocked – the looks we got reflected, in part, what blood meant to the gay community in that era – but this is who I then was. The black and white photograph in this chapter (below) was taken a day later. Paraphrasing Leonard Peltier, I was letting who I was ring out and resonate in every deed. I was taking responsibility for my own being. From that day to this, I have never cut myself again.

These tribal belongings and deviant sexualities speak of a desire to explore the self and the world. They cross the prohibition of the taboo by subverting gender norms through a paradoxical masculinity that ironically eroticises the desire for traditional masculinity. As Brian Pronger observes,
.

“Paradoxical masculinity takes the traditional signs of patriarchal masculinity and filters them through an ironic gay lens. Signs such as muscles [and gay skinheads], which in heterosexual culture highlight masculine gender by pointing out the power men have over women and the power they have to resist other men, through gay irony emerge as enticements to homoerotic desire – a desire that is anathema to orthodox masculinity. Paradoxical masculinity invites both reverence for the traditional signs of masculinity and the violation of those signs.”6

.
Violation is critical here. Through violation gay men are brought closer to a physical and mental eroticism. I remember going to dance parties with my partner and holding each other at arm’s length on the pumping dance floor, rubbing our shaved heads together for what seemed like minutes on end among the sweaty crowd, and being transported to another world. I lost myself in another place of ecstatic existence. Wearing my punk jacket, being a gay skinhead and exploring different pleasures always took me out of myself into another realm – a sensitive gay man who belonged to a tribe that was as sexy and deviant as fuck.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Marcus Bunyan. “Punk Jacket,” in Chris Brickell and Judith Collard (eds.,). Queer Objects. Manchester University Press, 2019, pp. 342-349.

Word count: 2,055

Endnotes

  1. Anonymous. ‘The Artist Behind the Iconic Silence = Death Image’, University of California Press Blog, 1 June 2017: https://www.ucpress.edu/blog/27892/the-artist-behind-the-iconic-silence-death-image
  2. Silence Opens Door, ‘Avram Finkelstein: Silence=Death,’ YouTube, 4 March 2010:
    https://youtu.be/7tCN9YdMRiA
  3. Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice was started in 1987 in New York as a response to the bigotry of the growing white power movement in 1982
  4. Anonymous, ‘Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice’:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skinheads_Against_Racial_Prejudice
  5. Murray Healy, Gay Skins: Class, masculinity and queer appropriation (London: Cassell, 1996), p. 397
  6. Brian Pronger, The Arena of Masculinity: Sports, homosexuality, and the meaning of sex (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1990), p. 145

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Punk Jacket' c. 1989-1991

Marcus Bunyan. 'Punk Jacket' c. 1989-1991

Marcus Bunyan. 'Punk Jacket' c. 1989-1991 (detail)

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Punk Jacket
c. 1989-1991
Mixed media
Collection of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA)
© Marcus Bunyan and ALGA

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Self-portrait with punk jacket, flanny and 14 hole steel toe capped Docs' 1991

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Self-portrait with punk jacket, flanny and 14 hole steel toe capped Docs
1991
Gelatin silver print
© Marcus Bunyan

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Marcus (after scarification), Sydney' 1992

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Marcus (after scarification), Sydney
1992
Gelatin silver print
© Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Other Marcus photographs in the Queer Objects book

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Two torsos' 1991

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Two torsos
1991
Gelatin silver print
© Marcus Bunyan

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Fred and Andrew, Sherbrooke Forest, Victoria' 1992

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Fred and Andrew, Sherbrooke Forest, Victoria
1992
Gelatin silver print
© Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive

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30
Dec
18

Photographs: ‘Australia’ Part 1

December 2018

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this posting contains images and names of people who may have since passed away.

 

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Parlour, Broken Hill, New South Wales' 1895

 

Anonymous photographer
Parlour, Broken Hill, New South Wales
1895
Gelatin silver print

 

A German Rönisch piano with a copy of “A Country Girl” above the keyboard (I can’t find any reference online to this song?). To the right, a two-panel screen with Christmas cards, one with the words “Hearty Greetings” and another with the date “1895”.

 

 

The last posting for 2018 features a selection of Australian black and white photographs that belong to a friend of mine, who has kindly allowed me to scan and publish them. The images have been digitally cleaned after scanning. The titles of the photographs are annotated on the back of the images.

The photographs are mainly of pastoral, colonial, outback, station, homestead and mining life, and picture the remoteness of these properties and towns c. 1910s-1950s. They also evidence the nature of white, colonial, patriarchal society much in evidence on pastoral stations during this time period. Hardly a women appears in these photographs, and Indigenous Australians usually only appear as stockmen or trackers.

Of most interest to me are the photographs of Poolamacca Station, c. 1910.

In the first photograph, Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales (below) what is going on in the photograph remains a bit of a mystery. A man lies, apparently comatose, on a mattress outside, on the ground, in the strong midday sun (note the short length of the shadows). The man to the right reaches forward to clasp his hand, while other men around clasp each other’s hands to form a circle around the body. Some men look down at the body on the mattress, others stare straight at the camera, smoking cigars. A handsome man with a moustache, on bended knee and wearing a waistcoat, third from left, smiles broadly at the camera. A man at the back of the group rests his head against the stone of the building, eyes closed, as though he is drunk. The length of the exposure can be judged by the several blurred figures, particularly of the man standing and the head of the man at right rear.

Several scenarios are possible: is the man lying on the mattress really ill? Is it some kind of religious play being performed on Christmas Day? Are they all drunk and mucking about? And/or is it some kind of game, a charade? The circle of hands suggests to me it is a type of friendship game for the person lying on the mattress, a bond between them all, a supposition reinforced by the handsome man smiling at the camera. If the situation were serious, he would not be smiling. The second photograph, taken at the same time (before or afterwards?), features the men now accompanied by women, piled high on a cart pulled by four horses. At left behind the front horses can be seen what I believe is the same corrugated iron and building that appears at left in the first image. We can only guess the narrative in the first photograph because we do not have enough clues. Nevertheless, the photograph and its story remain a fascinating mystery.

The third and fourth photographs also tell an enigmatic story. Again, they have both been taken at the same time, as can be seen by the same riveted water tank behind each group in the photographs. The same fair-haired child also appears at right in the first photograph and sitting in his mother’s lap in the second photograph. From the length of his white apron, the white man in the photograph is possibly a cook or butcher at Poolamacca Station. The photographs also put lie to George Dutton’s claim that “in 1910 there was only two boys left” at Poolamacca Station (see extract from The Mutawintji research project report below).

What we have here is, possibly, an interracial marriage or partnership, a frontier marriage? whose Australian

“… boundary-crossing lovers are still omitted from the historical memory of the nation. Despite their long-term, cross-generational legacies, these unions virtually became a secret of state. …

These lovers generated families at the core of the cultural and historical interface that became the Australian nation. However, the young coloniser state did not like it.

From the coming of Federation until the 1960s, love affairs between Aboriginal people and others were severely restricted across all of northern Australia. Queensland moved rapidly to curb courtship and marriage between white Australian men and Aboriginal women. Western Australia and the Northern Territory followed. That didn’t mean that relationships stopped. Love often prevailed. …

Police and missionary enforcers placed white working class men living with Aboriginal women under sexual surveillance, forcing them to either apply for permits or be arrested. Many were fined or jailed. The Chief Protectors, who had the power to decide who could marry whom, regularly refused their written requests to marry.

Although largely untouched by the new laws, magistrates, pastoralists, police and missionaries also fell in love with Aboriginal women. It was not uncommon for cattle station owners and managers to practice a form of cross-frontier polygamy, sustaining relationships with both a white wife and an Aboriginal woman. …

Australian lovers who were willing to cross these punitive marriage bars showed an uncommon courage. Out of this “illicit love” came new generations who carry on the battles for their ancestors and their communities. Some are the very same people who are required today to justify their Aboriginality because of mixed descent. They have to keep explaining who they are and why they are speaking out.1

.
What these rare photographs speak of is a love, an intimacy, and affection within a family unit. Just look at the gentleness as the man holds the child’s hands and the smile on the mother’s face. It is just a gorgeous photograph of love and happiness between white and black, of a smiling women with her children. Passed down through time, it is a privilege to be able to look, to understand, to feel the power of this relationship all of these years later.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All of these photographs have been digitally cleaned. Many thankx to my friend Daniel for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Professor Ann McGrath. “Celebrating white men and their black lovers,” on The Sydney Morning Herald website [Online] Cited 30/12/2018

 

 

1910s Australia

Anonymous photographer. 'Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Christmas guests, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Christmas guests, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Poolamacca Station

It is situated about 50 kilometres (31 mi) north of Broken Hill and 174 kilometres (108 mi) north east of Mannahill at the eastern end of the Barrier Range adjoining Sturts Meadows. The station currently occupies an area of 40,000 acres (16,187 ha). The abandoned township of Tarrawingee is situated within the boundaries of the station.

The property was established in the 1860s with the first owners of the run being Messrs Jones and Goode. In 1867 a shepherd staged a hoax with a white quartz gold find that lead to an aborted gold rush to the area. The first property in the area was Mount Gipps Station In 1865 with Corona, Mundi Mundi and Poolamacca being established shortly afterward. Sidney Kidman worked at Poolamacca during the 1870s as a boundary rider and stockman.

In 1877 the property was put up for auction by the trustees of the estate of Messrs E. M. Bagot and G. Bennett. At this stage the property was approximately 900 square miles (2,331 km2) in size along with a flock of 34,906 sheep. The property comprised ten separate runs including the 64,000 acre Bijerkerno run to the 25,000 acre Torrowangee run.

John Brougham acquired a half share in Poolamacca in 1889 and later secured the lease outright. Brougham remained at Poolamacca until 1915 when he moved to Adelaide. In 1892 approximately 50 Aboriginal people, were moved to Poolamacca station which under the regime of the late owner, Mr J. Brougham, constituted a sanctuary for the last remaining Aboriginal inhabitants of the Barrier Ranges and adjacent areas.

The lease was later split into two properties: Poolamacca and Wilangee in the 1920s. Moss Smith sold the property in 1927 to the Pastoral company of Adelaide following the death of his daughter whose body was found buried in a warren in Poolamacca late the year before after she had gone missing for four months.

In 2002 the property was acquired by the Indigenous Land Corporation with the title holders being the Wilyakali Aboriginal Corporation when the property occupied an area of 507 square kilometres (196 sq mi).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Sydney Poolamacca map

 

Sydney to Poolamacca map, New South Wales, Australia

 

Anonymous photographer. Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Extracts from The Mutawintji research project

Keith Brougham, the son of John Brougham, the owner of Poolamacca (and brother of John Brougham Jnr of Gnalta station, now part of Mutawintji National Park), describes how the first pastoralists mapped out their original station boundaries by including the best waterholes:

The wild aborigines were a help by following their tracks, as they knew of any existing water away from the river… One old aborigine who claims to be from one of the wild tribes told me the walkabout was a good sign to watch for – at that time a mob were having a hunt for a new hunting ground and had camped about midday. While they were stopped a pregnant woman had a baby there. Next day they were off again, mother and child and went straight to a waterhole, which the white people found by following their tracks (Brougham, K.W.C. 1920, West of the Darling, MS, State Library of South Australia, p. 14)

.
… In 1862, the area north-west of Mt Murchison on the Darling River near present day Wilcannia was still frontier country. Mt Gipps station7, set up in 1865 (Kearns 1982), was the first station in the Broken Hill area. It included the country to the north of Broken Hill and the hill that was to become the Broken Hill mine and city. Mt Gipps was followed soon after by Poolamacca, Corona and Mundi Mundi.

No actual descriptions of the annexation of Mutawintji by pastoralists have been found so far, but as permanent waterholes are few to the north-west of the Darling River, descriptions of the annexure of other important water sources such as Yancannia in the mid 1860s suggest that there was likely to have been conflict. Yancannia station, to the north of Mutawintji, had been established by 1865 and contemporary accounts describe conflict with the local Aboriginal people. By 1872 the Aboriginal people of Yancannia gave the owners “very little trouble” and “a few of them [were] very useful” (Reid in Shaw, M.T. 1987, Yancannia Creek, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, p. 104).

.
Dr Jeremy Beckett, Dr Luise Hercus, Dr Sarah Martin (edited by Claire Colyer). The Mutawintji research project report. MUTAWINTJI: Aboriginal Cultural Association with Mutawintji National Park. Published in 2008 by the Office of the Registrar, Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW), pp. 9-10.

 

It is clear from the Bonney records that people moved backwards and forwards between Yancannia, Momba, Tarella, Wonnaminta, Poolamacca and Gnalta/Mootwingee stations from the 1860s and through the 1880s. Bonney lists about 44 people as living at Momba and Tarella around 1881; some of the people from Momba have been traced and the descendents of some of the people Bonney described are Aboriginal owners of Mutawintji National Park. …

In 1892 about 50 Aboriginal people, including Outalpa George, were camped near Olary. At about this time they moved to Poolamacca station which “under the regime of the late owner, Mr J. Brougham, constituted a sanctuary for the last remaining Aboriginal inhabitants of the Barrier Ranges and adjacent areas” (Mawson, D. and Hossfeld, P.S. 1926, ‘Relics of Aboriginal Occupation in the Olary District’, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 50, pp. 17-25).

Keith Brougham, the son of John Brougham, writes about the 1890s:

[in] 1892 [at] Poolamacca … we were amazed by the number of Aboriginals that were there…. I had a boy mate staying with me and about two hundred blacks were camped in a sort of inlet in the hills of Silverton Hill, as it was called west of the homestead … The Aboriginals were practically in their wild state and did not speak our language (Brougham MS n.d, p.1)

… cotton dresses, high coloured and a great favourite of the [women] went as soon as they were landed, and olive oil for the [women’s] hair, always in demand (Brougham MS n.d, p.2).

[the Aboriginal people] were very handy in the woolshed at shearing time. The [women] did all the piece picking and men on the tables and picking up. The pickers were excellent at their job and all had a good eye, male and female (Brougham MS n.d, p.3)

… At Poolamacca my mother … employed a … girl who was neat and tidy, an extra good worker, and in 1896 she was really good (Brougham MS n.d, p.12)

… [at] Euriowie we had a lot of aboriginals working in the creeks surrounding this country picking up slugs of pure tin and bagging it (Brougham MS n.d, p.23).

.
The APB [Aboriginal Protection Board] minutes recorded between 1890 and 1901 seldom mention the Mutawintji area. The only stations in the far north-west that received help from the APB were Poolamacca, occasionally Sturts Meadows, and the fringe camps at Milparinka, Tibooburra, Wanaaring and Wilcannia. The only station that consistently received rations throughout 1890-1901 was Poolamacca. Sturts Meadows (just to the west of Mutawintji) received rations in 1893, 1897 and 1898. Most stations either managed to fully employ the Aboriginal people living there or provided food and clothing of some sort without asking for compensation. …

During John Brougham’s time at Poolamacca during the 1890s and early 1900s, the station was something of a sanctuary for Aboriginal people but many had moved on by the time the Brougham family left. Some followed the Broughams to Gnalta station (now part of Mutawintji National Park) while others went to stations like Yancannia, where a large number of Aboriginal people lived and worked (Shaw, M.T. 1987, Yancannia Creek, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne). …

According to George Dutton, who was born on Yancannia station, there was a sizeable Aboriginal population at Poolamacca until about 1910, but almost none thereafter. George Dutton told Jeremy Beckett:

“At Poolamacca in 1901 there was a big mob of blackfellas, two hundred men without the women and kids. When I went back in 1910 there was only two boys left and graves all round” (Beckett, J. 1978, ‘George Dutton’s Country: Portrait of an Aboriginal Drover’, Aboriginal History, vol. 2 (1), pp. 19).

.
Dr Jeremy Beckett, Dr Luise Hercus, Dr Sarah Martin (edited by Claire Colyer). The Mutawintji research project report. MUTAWINTJI: Aboriginal Cultural Association with Mutawintji National Park. Published in 2008 by the Office of the Registrar, Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW), pp. 14-16.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales' c. 1910-20

 

Anonymous photographer
Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales
c. 1910-20
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales' c. 1910-20 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910-20
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales' c. 1910-20 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910-20
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Dr Tham?, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales' c. 1900-1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Dr Tham?, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
c. 1900-1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Dr Tham?, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales' c. 1900-1910 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Dr Tham?, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales (detail)
c. 1900-1910
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Horse and trap, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Horse and trap, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Largs Pier Hotel, North-western suburb of Adelaide, South Australia' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Largs Pier Hotel, North-western suburb of Adelaide, South Australia
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Largs Pier Hotel

Largs Pier Hotel is located on the corner of The Esplanade and Jetty Road in Largs Bay, South Australia.

The Largs Pier Hotel opened in 1882 on the same day as the Largs Bay Railway and Pier. Believed to be 23rd of December according to The Port Adelaide Historical Society. From 1882 till around 1892 the Largs Pier was the primary port of call for New Australians travelling from Europe. Many of these immigrants spent their first nights in Australia at the hotel. (Wikipedia)

 

Largs Pier Hotel, South Australia

 

Largs Pier Hotel, South Australia today

 

 

1930s Australia

Anonymous photographer. 'Alice Springs' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Alice Springs
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Alice Springs' c. 1930 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Alice Springs (detail)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Police camels' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Police camels
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Police camels' c. 1930 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Police camels (detail)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Note the Aboriginal police tracker second from left. This could be in the Northern Territory.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'At the Granites' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
At the Granites
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

 

This photograph is possibly from around the Granites gold mine in the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory of Australia. You can make out the word “gold” on the truck behind the men.

Gold was discovered in the Tanami Desert by Alan Davidson. He arrived in the area in 1898 prospecting until 1901. He took the name Tanami for the region from local Aboriginal people who visited his camp. “On inquiry [he] learned that the native name of the rockholes (from [which the party obtained water] was Tanami, and that they “never died,” he said. Davidson showed the gold specimens to these Aboriginal people, who recognised it and described “mobs of similar stone to the east, together with a large creek containing plenty of water and fish. This they said was “two days’ sleep to the south of east”. (Wikipedia)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'At the Granites' c. 1930 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
At the Granites (detail)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Note the man crouching at left holding a Kodak box camera, and the folding camera (most probably a Kodak as well) at the feet of the man third from right.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'At the Granites' c. 1930 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
At the Granites (detail)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

 

1950s Australia

Anonymous photographer. 'Roy Hill Homestead, Pilbara region of Western Australia' c. 1950

 

Anonymous photographer
Roy Hill Homestead, Pilbara region of Western Australia
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Roy Hill Homestead, Pilbara region of Western Australia' c. 1950 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Roy Hill Homestead, Pilbara region of Western Australia (detail)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Roy Hill Homestead

Statement of significance

Roy Hill Station has strong heritage significance as it has aesthetic, historical, scientific, and social values. It represents more than a hundred years of life on a Pilbara station, and its buildings and structures, reflect an evolutionary pattern of development. Roy Hill Station was the home of Alexander Langdon (Alex) Spring who made an enormous contribution to local government in the region between 1940-70. He was a Councillor for 31 years, and was the first President of the East Pilbara Shire in 1972. He was made a Freeman of the Shire of East Pilbara in 1973. becoming the 13th Freeman in Western Australia.
Roy Hill continues to have significance as a large pastoral station, representing some of the other stations which owners did not want included in the Shire of East Pilbara Heritage Inventory.

 

History

Physical description

Roy Hill Homestead is situated 1km off the main road halfway between Newman and Nullagine. Roy Hill Station consists of a large number of buildings which demonstrate the dynamic process of running a pastoral station over a period of more than a century. There are a number of corrugated iron sheds built at different times for mechanical work and storage of station equipment. Close by is the aircraft directional beacon available for the nearby airstrip if a plane was lost. The original airstrip was approx. 6 miles from the homestead. Part of the very old cattle stockyards still stand next to a disused cattle killing hoist, reflecting a time when pastoralists regularly butchered cattle for their home consumption. The yards were the main trucking yards and general handling yards.

The large main house is one of a number of buildings that have been erected on the station since the turn of the century. It has cement block walls with a corrugated iron roof. Surrounding the large and once gracious home is a wide verandah. The house originally consisted of three bedrooms, a living room, guest room, dining room and school room. Nearby the house is a cluster of older buildings including a ‘Nissan hut’ shaped kitchen and dining room for workers and the old Post Office. Office and General Store.

The Post Office, Office and General Store has corrugated iron walls and a gabled tin roof. Inside the Post Office are the pigeon holes and other associated post office fittings. The service hatch for the Post Office is still visible from the outside. The General Store (to the rear of the Post Office) still has its shelves in place and much of the old equipment that has been collected there over the years gives a feeling of stepping back into another time. In the immediate vicinity of the homestead property are other remnants from the past.

Concrete pads found amongst the grass are the remains of Aboriginal stockmens quarters and the many rainwater tanks are reminders of the need to collect and store all water needed for consumption. A light aircraft parked near the airstrip is an important vehicle for transport and for mustering.
Today the house stands unoccupied and the owner and any employees live in transportable homes near the old house.

Text from the State Heritage Office, Government of Western Australia website

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Mundiwindi Station, Pilbara region of Western Australia' c. 1950

 

Anonymous photographer
Mundiwindi Station, Pilbara region of Western Australia
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Mundiwindi

Mundiwindi just off the Jigalong Mission Road in Western Australia is a locality about 1000km north-northeast of Perth. Mundiwindi is at an altitude of about 575m above sea level. The nearest ocean is the Indian Ocean about 410km north-northwest of Mundiwindi. The nearest more populous place is the town of Newman which is 71km away with a population of around 3,500.

Mundiwindi is a ghost town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The town is around 1,150 kilometres (710 mi) north east of Perth and 124 kilometres (77 mi) south east of Newman, along the Jigalong Mission road. The town was established in 1914 as a telegraph station. The station was closed in 1977. The telegraph station was a link on the Australian Overland Telegraph Line linking the settled regions of Australia to the submarine cable at Broome. A weather station operated at the site between 1915 and 1981. (Wikipedia)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Mundiwindi Station, Pilbara region of Western Australia' c. 1950 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Mundiwindi Station, Pilbara region of Western Australia (detail)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Cardawan Station, central Western Australia' c. 1950

 

Anonymous photographer
Cardawan Station, central Western Australia
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Stockman (Australia)

In Australia a stockman (plural stockmen) is a person who looks after the livestock on a large property known as a station, which is owned by a grazier or a grazing company. A stockman may also be employed at an abattoir, feedlot, on a livestock export ship, or with a stock and station agency. …

 

History

The role of the mounted stockmen came into being early in the 19th century, when in 1813 the Blue Mountains separating the coastal plain of the Sydney region from the interior of the continent was crossed. The town of Bathurst was founded shortly after, and potential farmers moved westward, and settled on the land, many of them as squatters. The rolling country, ideal for sheep and the large, often unfenced, properties necessitated the role of the shepherd to tend the flocks.

Early stockmen were specially selected, highly regarded men owing to the high value and importance of early livestock. All stockmen need to be interested in animals, able to handle them with confidence and patience, able to make accurate observations about them and enjoy working outdoors.

Australian Aborigines were good stockmen who played a large part in the successful running of many stations. With their intimate bonds to their tribal places, and local knowledge they also took considerable pride in their work. After the gold rushes white labour was expensive and difficult to retain. Aboriginal women also worked with cattle on the northern stations after this practice developed in northern Queensland during the 1880s. A Native administration Act later stopped the employment of women in the cattle camps. Aborigines and their families received the regular provision of food and clothing to retain their labour, but were paid only a small wage.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

For more information on the role and conditions of Aboriginal stockmen, please see the book Aborigines in the Northern Territory Cattle Industry by Dr Frank Stevens, Australian National University Press, 1974.

“Perhaps nowhere in Australia have working and living conditions for Aborigines been so bad as on Northern Territory cattle stations. Though the Aborigines’ skill in handling cattle is acknowledged by their white employers, rarely have they gained recognition in any material way. None were paid full wages, many were fortunate if they received any cash wages at all, almost all lived in appalling conditions, and many were subjected to physical violence.

These facts emerge clearly from Dr Stevens’s thorough research into the conditions obtaining on Territory pastoral properties in the 1960s. During surveys in 1965 followed up in 1967, Dr Stevens questioned employers and both black and white workers in the industry, eliciting some revealing replies. It was apparent that the Aboriginal workers were fully aware of their degraded position and the way in which they were exploited.

Where possible Dr Stevens visited the Aboriginal station ‘camps’, though he met with opposition from some station owners, reluctant to allow him free access. In almost all of them the living conditions were primitive, the best of accommodation being little more than a corrugated iron hut. Few camps had running water or cooking facilities.

In the growing awareness of the Aborigines’ plight in Australia, this book is an important testimony of the conditions in which many lived and worked, conditions that must no longer be allowed to exist.” (Book jacket)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Cardawan Station, central Western Australia' c. 1950 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Cardawan Station, central Western Australia (detail)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Railway Hotel, Lake Austin township, Murchison region of Western Australia' c. 1950

 

Anonymous photographer
Railway Hotel, Lake Austin township, Murchison region of Western Australia
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Austin, Western Australia

Austin is an abandoned town in the Murchison region of Western Australia. The town is located south of Cue on an island in Lake Austin and for this reason was also known as Lake Austin and The Island Lake Austin.

The lake and the town are both named after surveyor Robert Austin, who was the first European to explore and chart the area. Austin initially named the lake the Great Inland Marsh but the name was later changed to Lake Austin. The townsite was gazetted in 1895. When Austin travelled through the area he described it as very indifferent but also added the geological features indicate rich goldfields. (Wikipedia)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Railway Hotel, Lake Austin township, Murchison region of Western Australia' c. 1950 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Railway Hotel, Lake Austin township, Murchison region of Western Australia (detail)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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12
Nov
18

10th year anniversary of Art Blart

13th November 2008 – 13th November 2018

 

Art Blart 10 year anniversary

 

 

A big effort

Art Blart has a readership of 1,500 a day. It has become a research tool for artists and photographers around the world. It is also an important form of cultural memory, with over 1,300 posts in its archive. The site is itself being archived by Pandora from the National Library of Australia.

What I find most important about the archive is that it gives me the opportunity to promote artists, to promote ideas and thoughts about art and life and, most importantly, to shine a light on different aspects of art, from the under recognised concepts to the disenfranchised and forgotten artists.

Reproduced below is the first ever post on Art Blart with the key tags, life and death. Not a lot has changed in 10 years. My concerns in that first post are still present – what we are doing to the planet and to our culture, how we construct our histories and memories, and how we can embrace diversity and equality the world over. Text and images and powerful tools for promoting such egalitarian ideals.

I must thank all the amazing galleries around the world for suppling text and media images. Your efforts are truly appreciated, for without you the archive would be nothing. Your enthusiasm and willingness to help has been incredible.

And to you, the readers, I must thank you for your for your attention and continued patronage. While the website is a personal form of expression there is also a good dose of altruism amongst its postings. I hope my musings have enlightened your ideas on art and life for the better. I hope you have all enjoyed the ride as much as I have enjoyed making and writing the website.

I will continue to write into history and memory as much as I can in the following years.

Marcus

 

 

First ever post

13th November 2008

 

 

“We are such spendthrifts with our lives,” Newman once told a reporter.

“The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster.”

.
Paul Newman

 

 

See the original posting

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09
Nov
18

Exhibition: ‘Black Mist Burnt Country’ at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 18th November 2018

Curator: JD Mittmann

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following post may contain images and voices of people who have died.

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'One Dozen Considerations - Emu Totem I' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing (b. 1959)
One Dozen Considerations – Emu Totem I
2013
C type photograph
49 x 76 cm
© Rosemary Laing

 

 

The empty yet altered landscape takes on different moods with Rosemary Laing’s, One Dozen Considerations Totem 1 – Emu (2013) monument marking the site of an weapon’s test with a British flag flying behind it. Both look like conqueror’s claims to territory, powerful images of the attempts to colonise Indigenous space, to write a colonial history through markers of significance, to write out the Indigenous voice but at the same time to appropriate Indigenous ideas and language. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

 

Field of thunder ~ big devil spirit ~ colonial fireworks

a/atom

late 15th century: from Old French atome, via Latin from Greek atomos ‘indivisible’, based on a- ‘not’ + temnein ‘to cut’.

 

a/secret

something that is not properly understood; a mystery

 

a/secretion

from French sécrétion or Latin secretio(n- ) ‘separation’, from secret- ‘moved apart’, from the verb secernere

 

a/desecration

late 17th century: from de- (expressing reversal) + a shortened form of consecrate

 

a/segregation

the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment

 

Lest we forget what was bequeathed the land, Traditional Owners and servicemen by the British and Australian governments. Death, disease, displacement from Country and radioactivity so they can never return. Literally sickening. Shame, shame and more shame.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Museum of Australia for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

There was also a lot of tearing down of Aboriginal sites according to what I’ve heard and just sort of this blinkered vision, and I think it’s a horrible education to learn that’s the way Aboriginal in those areas were perceived… and then you look at the ramifications of the health of both the people and the land and how that has been totally compromised…

Whether it came to treatment of Aboriginal people or whether it came to treatment of the environment. Hopefully [the exhibition will] engender something that people will fight, fight for their rights and fight for their land.

.
Waanyi artist Judy Watson

 

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia' 2006

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia
2006
Digital inkjet print
85 x 85 cm
© Jessie Boylan

 

 

Yami Lester, Walatinna Station, South Australia, 2006 – In 1953, Yami, a Yankunytjatjara man, was ten years old, living at Wallatinna Station when Totem One went off, it was part of a series of atmospheric atomic bombs that the British and Australian governments were testing during the 50’s and 60’s at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia and the Monte Bello Islands off the West Australian coast. He was blinded not long after the fallout. (Jessie Boylan)

 

 

Yami Lester (Boylan)
Yunkunytjatjara man Yami Lester talks about the mysterious poisonous ‘black mist’ that badly affected Aboriginal area after the Totem 1 atomic test in 1952

 

 

At Maralinga, the tests caused adverse effects on both the local people and military personnel, but in many cases it was difficult to determine the extent to which people had been affected. But for Yankunytjatjara Elder Tjamu Yami Lester it was devastating. He was blinded at 10 years old as a result of the ‘black mist’ that descended onto his country.

He died last year at the age of 75.

Much of his life was spent fighting for people affected by nuclear testing, subsequently becoming the public face of a tireless campaign. He led the push for the 1984 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, which resulted in a clean-up of the testing ground and compensation for the Anangu people. While reparations can never repair the damage inflicted upon Yami Lester, his people and country, his remarkable legacy lives on.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Blak Douglas. 'Tjarutja Tragedy' 2016

 

Blak Douglas (b. 1970)
Tjarutja Tragedy
2016
Tragedy
Synthetic polymer on canvas
100 x 200 cm
© Blak Douglas

 

 

The burnt, barren trees in Blak Douglas’s Tjarutja Tragedy are bent, leaning to one side with their branches split in two representing the letter Y.

“That’s because I’m asking why did this happened to us people?”

The Dunghutti artist’s work captures a land destroyed by atomic testing in Australia and speaks to the deep displacement of its Traditional Owners.

“I wanted to create a piece that really encapsulated the return of blackfellas to their country when your country has been blasted. It’s metaphoric for a lot of blackfellas… [And] effectively it’s a metaphor for the continent en masse, and how much of us can’t return to our tribal homelands including myself.”

“Whole peoples were dispossessed from their country and this was done complicity on behalf of the British government and the Australian people really had no say in it.” …

Blak Douglas says his own work was inspired by Mr Lester’s spirited crusade [see above].

“I remember seeing images of him and I googled Maralinga on YouTube a long time ago and I saw Uncle Yami as he was blinded as result of the atomic tests,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated this painting to that mob and I’m proud of that and I’m sure that Uncle Yami, or that mob there when I meet them in due time, will be embracing of it.”

He says Maralinga was one of the “worst atrocities any blackfella has suffered.”

“To blow bombs like that on country and to name them gammin white names or code names that’s just the epitome of colonial fireworks,” he says.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

 

Blak Douglas
Sydney-based artist Blak Douglas talks about his painting ‘Tjarutja Tragedy’ which is part of the exhibition Black Mist Burnt Country

 

Paul Ogier. 'One Tree (former emu field atom test site)' 2010

 

Paul Ogier (b. 1974, New Zealand)
One Tree (former emu field atom test site)
2010
Carbon pigment on rag paper
94 x 117 cm
© Paul Ogier

 

 

An award-winning national touring exhibition of artworks by over 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, commemorating the British atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s, opens today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Black Mist Burnt Country features artworks from the past seven decades, selected from public and private collections, including works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Pam Debenham, Toni Robertson, Rosemary Laing, Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown, Judy Watson, Hilda Moodoo and Yvonne Edwards.

Developed by the Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Black Mist Burnt Country revisits the history of the British atomic test program at Maralinga, Emu Field and Montebello Islands and examines the impact on people and land, as well as its on-going legacies.

It presents works across the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, new media and music, while exploring the varied perspectives and creative approaches of artists from post-Second World War modernists to contemporary artists.

A variety of interactive elements enable visitors to gain insights into the social, political and environmental dimensions, while placing the Australian atomic tests in the context of the nuclear arms race and its present-day realities.

Margo Neale, Head of the National Museum’s Indigenous Knowledge Centre and Advisor to the Director, said, ‘This potent exhibition by a cast of great artists broaches a number of thresholds in the telling of Australian history through art, and the role of museums in bringing these relatively little-known stories to life. These visual stories penetrate the heart while revealing little-known truths of human consequence about a tragic event in our shared history.’

Burrinja exhibition curator JD Mittmann said, ‘It is surprising how few people are aware that atomic bombs were exploded in Australia, and how little they know about the dislocation of Aboriginal people, the exposure of Australian servicemen and the contamination of the land. This exhibition offers some remarkable insights into a chapter of our history that has long-lasting consequences, while it poses some important questions in relation to contemporary nuclear issues’.

The project has been produced by Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Upwey, Victoria and has been on tour nationally since September 2016, when it marked the 60th anniversary of the first British test at Maralinga. The project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program and developed through the Exhibition Development Fund of National Exhibition Touring Support (NETS) Victoria. The project has also received financial assistance from the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Black Mist Burnt Country received the 2017 Museums Australia Victoria Archival Survival Award (Small Museums) and a Highly Commended at the Museums Australia National Conference (Touring and Temporary Exhibitions).

Press release from the National Museum of Australia

 

Karen Standke. 'Road to Maralinga II' 2007

 

Karen Standke (b. 1973, Germany)
Road to Maralinga II
2007
Oil on canvas
112 x 85 cm
© Karen Standke

 

Kate Shaw. 'Charcoal, UK: Maralinga' 2012

 

Kate Shaw (b. 1969)
Charcoal, UK: Maralinga
2012
Acrylic and resin on board
120 x 240 cm
© Kate Shaw

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

Adam Norton
Sydney-based artist Adam Norton talks about his work Prohibited Area, which is part of a series of reproduced signs he encountered in “nuclear badlands”.

 

'Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road' 1974

 

Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road
1974
National Archives of Australia NAA: A6457, P042

 

 

British nuclear tests at Maralinga

Historical context

On 3 October 1952, the United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon, named “Hurricane”, at the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. A year later the first nuclear test on the Australian mainland was Totem 1 (9.1 kilotonnes of TNT (38 TJ)) at Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert, South Australia, on 15 October 1953. Totem 2 (7.1 kilotonnes of TNT (30 TJ)) followed two weeks later on 27 October. The Supply Minister, Howard Beale, stated in 1955 that “England has the know how; we have the open spaces, much technical skill and a great willingness to help the Motherland. Between us we should help to build the defences of the free world, and make historic advances in harnessing the forces of nature.”

The British government formally requested a permanent test facility on 30 October 1953. Due to concerns about nuclear fallout from the previous tests at Emu Field and the site’s inadequate infrastructure and water supply, the recently surveyed Maralinga site was selected for this purpose. The new site was announced in May 1955. It was developed as a joint, co-funded facility between the British and Australian governments.

Prior to selection, the Maralinga site was inhabited by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people, for whom it had a great spiritual significance. Many were relocated to a new settlement at Yalata, and attempts were made to curtail access to the Maralinga site. These were often unsuccessful. (My emphasis) …

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs study concluded that “Overall, the doses received by Australian participants were small. … Only 2% of participants received more than the current Australian annual dose limit for occupationally exposed persons (20 mSv).” However, such findings are contested. Australian servicemen were ordered to: repeatedly fly through the mushroom clouds from atomic explosions, without protection; and to march into ground zero immediately after bomb detonation. Airborne drifts of radioactive material resulted in “radioactive rain” being dropped on Brisbane and Queensland country areas. A 1999 study for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association found that 30 per cent of involved veterans had died, mostly in their fifties, from cancers.

Successive Australian governments failed to compensate servicemen who contracted cancers following exposure to radiation at Maralinga. However, after a British decision in 1988 to compensate its own servicemen, the Australian Government negotiated compensation for several Australian servicemen suffering from two specific conditions, leukaemia (except lymphatic leukaemia) and the rare blood disorder multiple myeloma.

One author suggests that the resettlement and denial of aboriginal access to their homelands “contributed significantly to the social disintegration which characterises the community to this day. Petrol sniffing, juvenile crime, alcoholism and chronic friction between residents and the South Australian police have become facts of life.” In 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja, which resulted in the payment of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing. (My emphasis)

 

Media coverage

According to Liz Tynan from James Cook University, the Maralinga tests were a striking example of what can happen when the popular media are unable to report on activities that the government may be trying to hide. Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, but by the late 1970s there was a marked change in how the Australian media covered the British nuclear tests. Some resourceful investigative journalists emerged, whistle-blowers such as Avon Hudson [see photograph below] spoke out and political scrutiny became more intense. The investigative journalist Brian Toohey ran a series of stories in the Australian Financial Review in October 1978, based in part on a leaked Cabinet submission.

In June 1993, New Scientist journalist Ian Anderson wrote an article entitled “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga” and several related articles. They are a detailed analysis of the legacy of Vixen B and the Australian government’s prolonged negotiations with the United Kingdom on cleaning up Maralinga and sharing the cost of “safe-sealing” waste plutonium. Previously, much of this highly toxic nuclear waste had simply been lightly bulldozed into the soil rather than buried in deep, secure, purpose-built, concrete bunkers. In 1993, Anderson won two Michael Daley Awards for his Maralinga articles.

Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up is a book by Alan Parkinson about the clean-up following the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, published in 2007. Parkinson, a nuclear engineer, explains that the clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s was compromised by cost-cutting and simply involved dumping hazardous radioactive debris in shallow holes in the ground. Parkinson states that “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Australian Atomic Confessions

Sacrificial Lambs on the High Alter of Science

Australian servicemen and nomadic Aboriginals reveal the devastating effects of atomic weapons testing carried out in Australia by the British during the 1950s. For the first time, members of the Royal Australian Army, Air Force and Navy describe former top secret aspects of those tests. With the use of rare archival film and photographs, as well as eye witness accounts, Australian Atomic Confessions chronicles the hidden history and exposes previously hidden Government cover-ups. The consequences of nuclear testing imposed on the Australian people and land are not just skeletons of the past. Sydneys’ new nuclear reactor continues to pose a threat to the environment and civilians, and the problem of removing and disposing of the old nuclear reactor remains an unanswered question. Prominent Aboriginal Elders also warn that an imminent catastrophe may occur in Central Australia as a result of two uranium mines. Australian Atomic Confessions is a chilling expose of nuclear testing and its damaging legacy, one that continues to this day.

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga' 2011-2015

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga
2011-2015
Image: Burrinja Cultural Centre

 

 

This series chronicles Avon Hudson’s life, from early years growing up in regional South Australia, to service in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftman, through the experience of British atomic bomb tests, to his “whistle blower” act of revealing Maralinga’s deadly legacy.

What Avon knew, and was prepared to tell publically about Maralinga, contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-85). His motivation was to put a halt to government plans to return Maralinga to its traditional owners, pending a full clean-up of land still contaminated by radioactive debris.

The story of nuclear testing is unknown to most Australians. Between 1952 and 1963, after a decision made by Prime Minister Menzies alone, nine atomic bombs were exploded and hundreds of ‘minor’ experiments were conducted at the British-run testing ranges at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia. Three bombs were also exploded at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia.

The impacts of these experiments continue to play out in the ill health and changed lives of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, who were exposed to or involved in the tests, over multiple generations. The tests have also left a deep-future legacy of environmental contamination.

It is a portrait of someone with a photographic memory, capable of grasping and articulating every detail of the atomic age as he experienced it.

It depicts a committed citizen and serviceman, husband and father, always an advocate and an activist, who in civilian life became a Wakefield councillor for over 20 years. It shows a practical man – mechanic, wood-turner and furniture maker; and portrays a nature-enthusiast and an educator on environmental and social issues.

It is also a portrait of someone who has invariably lived by his convictions – as that’s what whistleblowers do. Since the 1970s, Avon has campaigned for recognition of nuclear veterans and civilian personnel. As his co-authored book “Beyond Belief” records, “His life has been deeply affected by a sense of injustice and by the callousness of successive Australian and British governments ignoring the plight of those caught up in ‘the grand game’.”

This series is a recognition and celebration of the significant role Avon has played South Australia’s unfolding atomic history. His life as an activist seems to belong to the present, as the future of nuclear science and technology is considered anew.

Text from the Jessie Boylan website (with permission)

 

Boylan is a photomedia artist who explores issues relating to human impacts on the land and communities in relation to environmental and social devastation – nuclear testing, mining and war. Through her work Boylan’s has expressed ideas of history and place in relation to contemporary Australian identity, community and activism. She recently completed her MFA on the topic of photography, the campsite and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia.

Jessie Boylan is a key member of the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group who aim to render visible all aspects of the nuclear age. She won first place in Images of Justice at Adelaide University 2015 and has been a finalist for the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award in 2007, 2009 & 2012, the Spirit of Youth Award in 2009, the Head On Alternative Portrait Awards, ACP, Sydney in 2009 & 2010. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Craig McDonald. 'Maralinga Test Dummy' 2010

 

 

Hugh Ramage. 'Taranaki' 2014

 

Hugh Ramage (b. New Zealand 1958, emigrated to Sydney in 1978)
Taranaki
2014
Oil on canvas
42 x 37 cm
© Hugh Ramage

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area
(image source: Google Earth)

 

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown
Pitjantjatjara artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown talks about his country and the effects the atomic tests had on it

 

Jonathan Brown was removed from his parents at Ooldea and grew up with foster parents in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and learnt about the atomic tests, the removal of his people from their traditional lands and the destruction of country. Jonathan first came to recognition as artist when he worked with Lin Onus for the 1990 exhibition Balance at the Queensland Art Gallery. His later paintings were heavily influenced by the experiences of the Pitjantjatjara / Anangu which became the focus of his work. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga before the Atomic Test' 1994

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga before the Atomic Test
1994
Ochres, sand and kapok on linen
227 x 205 cm
Yarra Ranges McLeod Gift Collection

 

 

Much of the exhibition centres on the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjara Brown who was removed from his family at Ooldea Mission, located on the transcontinental railway near Watson about 250 kilometres west of Ceduna.

Three of his works feature in the exhibition, and grainy textures bring his pieces to life. One in particular, Black Rain, powerfully illustrates the destruction of country through a black sky punctured by white thick stripes of rain and cloud.

“He did it with such a great sense of power and visual impact,” says Burrinja Executive Director Ross Farnell.

“He would depict the landscape and then basically throw a whole heap of ochre, sand and glue over the top of it and then just obliterate most of the painting and then go that’s Maralinga after the test, ‘that’s what happened to my country’,” Mr Farnell told NITV News.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Jonathan’s story

One of the central stories of Black Mist Burnt Country is the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. Jonathan was removed from his parents at Ooldea mission station at very early age and grew up with in a foster family in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and went back to be reunited with them.

The return to his people was traumatic. Neither could he speak Pitjantjatjara, nor did he know he had a brother. He learned about the removal of his people from their country and the destruction of country through atomic testing.

Fabian Peel, who worked as a nurse in the community at the time and is now director of Tullawon Health Clinic in Yalata, took Jonathan around the country. He remembers: “It was very painful. Jonathan cried all the way.”

Jonathan went on to make several paintings depicting the impacts of the nuclear testing program on Anangu and the land, some of which will be included in the exhibition.

Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate
Photograph: Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' (detail) 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga (detail)
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochres and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Frogmen' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Frogmen
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochre and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Kate Downhill. 'Operation Hurricane' 2013

 

Kate Downhill (b. 1955 England, emigrated to Australia 2009)
Operation Hurricane
2013
Acrylic on dress fabric laid on canvas
101 x 76 cm
© Kate Downhill

 

 

Kate studied graphic design at Newcastle-upon-Tyne College of Art and worked in London during the 1970s as an illustrator and layout artist in various publishing houses. In the 1980s she studied painting at Exeter College of Art, graduating with a BA in Fine Art and Literature and concentrated on her purely abstract paintings in the tradition of the St. Ives School of painters with whom she trained. In the mid 1990s her working style changed dramatically and abstraction became a background element in new works where a variety of figurative styles and painting techniques were used within the same image. Since then she has worked to combine both painterly and graphic imagery to narrative effect. A life-long interest in textiles, quilting and the language of stitching is also evident in her work.

Since emigrating to Australia Kate has been concentrating on a series of paintings whose theme is the fragmentary and personal nature of memory and the process of memorialisation, as with the paintings she presents in this exhibition. Here she is using the naive imagery of rural community quilting to bring together varied scraps of information and family anecdotes about the British Australian nuclear tests. Kate’s father was a seismologist for the Atomic Weapons Research Institute and he was closely involved in the development and testing of the H Bomb during the 1950s. Her work here is a deeply personal response to historical events. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

 

Kate Downhill
Kate Downhill talks about her father’s involvement in the British atomic test program as a seismologist and explains her painting’s reference to quilting.

 

Tjariya Stanley. 'Puyu - Black Mist' 2015

 

Tjariya Stanley
Puyu – Black Mist
2015
Acrylic on canvas
© Margo Birnberg and the artist

 

Hilda Moodoo and Jeffrey Quema. 'Destruction II' 2002

 

Hilda Moodoo (b. 1952) and Jeffrey Quema (1947-2009)
Destruction II
2002
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
101 x 122 cm
Santos Fund for Aboriginal Art 2002, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Courtesy of the artists

 

 

Hilda Moodoo painting began at Oak Valley in December 2001 when Victorian Yorta Yorta artist Lance Atkinson spent two months in the community teaching the technical skills for painting on canvas. Hilda Moodoo and Kunmanara Queama’s collaborative paintings Destruction I and II were included in the resulting Desert Oaks exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre in March 2002 and are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Desert Oaks project was a deliberate expression of identity and an opportunity to pass on knowledge through painting. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

Queama, a Pitjantjatjara man, was born at Ooldea, on the eastern edge of the Nullabor Plain. With the dispersal of residents after the closure of the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1952, he was sent to the Lutheran mission school at Koonibba, near Ceduna. He worked for many years on land conservation and management boards, and lobbied tirelessly for the return of the Maralinga-Tjarutja lands to the traditional owners. In 1984 the lands were been returned, and he and his wife Hilda Moodoo among others founded Oak Valley community, 150 kilometres northwest of Maralinga. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Arthur Boyd. 'Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City' 1976

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City
1976
Oil on canvas
Bundanon Trust Collection
© Bundanon Trust

 

 

In Arthur Boyd’s Jonah on the Shoalhaven – Outside the City (1976), the iconic cloud sits on the horizon, almost like a puff of dust rising off the white sand. Boyd had been conscripted into the army and became a pacifist. For him, the threat of nuclear destruction sits in the backdrop, no less menacing than Nolan’s apocalyptic response two decades earlier. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Sidney Nolan. 'Central Desert Atomic Test' 1952-57

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Central Desert Atomic Test
1952-57
Oil on canvas

 

 

Nolan’s landscape sits harsh and red under a blue sky and the mushroom cloud of the bomb. Nolan was living in London at the time but news of the tests started appearing in the media. The cloud and dust were added to one of Nolan’s desert paintings as an act of protest over the events taken place back in Australia and the addition turns a rugged landscape into an image that seethes with anger at the act of destruction. In Nolan’s landscape, the bomb looms large. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Toni Robertson. 'The Royal Nuclear Show - 6' 1981

 

Toni Robertson (b. 1953)
The Royal Nuclear Show – 6
1981
Screen print on paper (set of 6 screenprints)
Prints, screenprints, printed in colour inks, each from four hand-cut and three photo-stencils
Flinders University Art Museum Collection
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Toni Robertson studied fine arts at the University of Sydney in the 1970s and was a founding member of the influential Earthworks Poster Collective (1971-80) at the University’s Tin Sheds. Robertson’s work has appeared in many group exhibitions in the 1970s and 1980s, and along with Chips Mackinolty and others she is recognised as a leading figure in Australian political printmaking. Her work is held in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, Artbank and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney as well as tertiary, state library and union collections. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty. 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?' 1977

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty
Toni Robertson
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | born 1953
Chips Mackinolty
Morwell, Victoria, Australia | born 1954
Earthworks Poster Collective
commenced 1971 – 1980 | poster design studio (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?
1977
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 73.4 h x 48.2 w cm
Sheet 76.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Given in memory of Mitch Johnson 1988
© Toni Robertson

 

 

The political poster movement in Australia was at its height in the 1970s, supporting anti-war, anti-uranium, pro-land rights and pro-feminist causes. Members of the Earthworks Poster Collective, opposed to the egotism of individual artistic fame, worked from the Tin Sheds (University of Sydney Art Workshop). In Daddy what did you do in the nuclear war? Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty appropriated a British recruiting poster from the First World War, adapting the children’s bodies to reflect the genetic consequences of radiation.

Christine Dixon

 

Victorian-born artist Chips Mackinolty was involved in the campaigns against the war in Vietnam by producing protest posters. He was a key figure in the radical poster movement and was introduced to screen printing in Goulburn Street, Sydney. During the 1970s posters became an art form artists using the cheap posters as a political tool. The Earthworks Poster Collective, established in 1971, was the most active and well-known of these groups. Earthworks operated from the Sydney University Art Workshop, commonly known as the Tin Sheds, finally demolished in 2007. Mackinolty used sharp, flat colours and increasingly professional techniques to produce posters such as “For the man who said life wasn’t meant to be easy – make life impossible.” The poster is a multi-imaged send-up of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was posted up at night around Sydney, helping to politicise a generation. His work is held in major national and international institutions. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Pam Debenham. 'No nukes in the Pacific' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No nukes in the Pacific
1984
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 88.0 h x 62.0 w cm
Sheet 91.0 h x 65.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1990

Pam Debenham. 'No Nukes No Tests' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No Nukes No Tests
1984
Screenprint on paper
© Pam Debenham
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (b. 1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts,
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

National Museum of Australia
Lawson Crescent
Acton Peninsula, Canberra

Opening hours:
Daily 9am-5pm

Black Mist Burnt Country website

National Museum of Australia website

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02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

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“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

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John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

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Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.
* See additional image of Dostler’s execution taken from a different perspective in the Addendum section of this text.

 

 

1

One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

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Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

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Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

2

Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being differe