Posts Tagged ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

01
Jul
17

Review: ‘Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

This project has been supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria

 

PLEASE NOTE: I am still recovering from my hand operation which is going to take longer than expected. All of the text has been constructed using a dictation programme and corrected using only my right hand – a tedious process. I have to keep my mental faculties together, otherwise this hand will drive me to distraction… Marcus

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1-3
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type prints
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 2
C-type print
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“While I’m interested in portraiture – I don’t consider my work as portraiture because that suggests that I’m trying to portray myself, my own visage, my own image. I employ images, icons, materials, metaphors to capture and idea and moment in time. There are many different things at play; taking a picture of myself is really the last thing that’s on my mind.”

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Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

“I’m interested in simple aesthetic gestures that can say something … something quite profound about the world that we live in. I tend to build images how I create a sculpture. I borrow from the world around me.”

On being away from home: “You’re able to remove yourself from the local discourse, and romanticise home. When you’re displaced you tend to gravitate towards certain memories … But this is who I am. It would be weird not to express that somehow. I combine memories of my past with my lived experience and an idea of where I’d like to be … it’s all montaged into one.”

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Christian Thompson

 

“But Thompson makes things up. His ‘We bury our own’ does not let us see the early daguerreotype but improvises a series of fugues on its spiritual essence. This is the crucial step that Thompson has taken: if you repeat the spectacle you cannot escape the past. But if you, a spiritual descendant, transmogrify yourself in keeping with the aura of the image’s subject, during the prolonged period of encounter and immersion, you can ‘repatriate’ that forebear. Or so he desires.”

“Through these conjurings of the language his people spoke before colonisation set out to strip them of their culture as well as their land, Christian Thompson performs private ceremonies – to reach beyond visual statements of personal presence and reawaken the knowledge of his forebears, and allow us, his listeners and viewers, into their living story.”

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Marina Warner. “Magical Aesthetics,” extracts from the catalogue essay

 

 

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… not dying.

This is a strong survey exhibition of the work of contemporary Australian Indigenous artist and Bidjara man exploring the world, Christian Thompson. As with any survey exhibition, it can only give us a glimpse into the long standing development of the artist’s work, inviting the viewer to then research more fully the themes, conceptual acts and bodies (of work) that have led the artist to this point in his artistic development. Having said that the exhibition, together with its insightful catalogue essays and additional images that do not appear in the exhibition, allow the viewer to be challenged intellectually, aesthetically and most importantly … spiritually. And to be somewhat conflicted by the art as well, it has to be said.

Thompson’s “multidisciplinary practice explores notions of cultural hybridity, along with identity and history, creating works that transcend cultural boundaries.” His self-reflexive and self-referential bodies of work, often with the artist using his body as an “armature for his characters, costumes and various props,” are intuitive and imaginative in how they relate Aboriginal and Australian/European history, taking past time into present time which influences future time. Time, memory, history, space, landscape are conflated into one point, enunciated through acts of ritual intimacy. These ritual intimacies, these performative acts, are enabled through an understanding of a regularised and constrained repetition of norms (in this case, the declarative power of colonialism), where the taking of a photograph of an Aboriginal person (for example), is “a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production…” (Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 95).

What is so heartening to see in this exhibition is a contemporary Indigenous artist not relying on re-animating colonial images of past injustices, but re-imagining these images to produce a spiritual connection to Country, to place, to people in the present moment. As Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA and Hetti Perkins, guest curator observe in the wall text at the beginning of the exhibition, “Rather than appropriating or restaging problematic ethnographic images of indigenous ancestors held in the Museum’s photographic collection, Thompson has chosen to spend significant periods of time with these images, absorbing their ‘aura’ and developing a personal artistic and deferential response that is decisively empowered.” As Marina Warner states in her excellent catalogue essay “Magical Aesthetics”, these ritual intimacies are a “magical re-animation and adopt time-honoured processes of making holy – of hallowing. Adornment is central to ritual and a prime way of glorifying and consecration.” What Thompson is doing is not quoting but translating the source-text into new material. As Mary Jacobus notes of the work of the painter Cy Twombly, “Quotation involves the repurposing of an existing text: translation requires a swerve from the source-text as it finds new directions and enters unknown terrain.” (Mary Jacobus. Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint.  Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 7).

This auto-ethnographic exploration and adornment leads to a deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of time in a heterotopic space, juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites of contestation – Thompson’s travels and research from around the world, the embodiment in his own culture and that of contemporary Australia, pop culture, fashion, music and language – where, as Hetti Perkins says, “the unknowable is a lovely thing” and where Thompson can affect and influence “the Zeitgeist through more subversive means.” These spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia, these fragmented images, become a process and a performance in which Thompson seeks to ameliorate the objects aura through a process of ‘spiritual repatriation’. Thompson’s performativity is where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Here, in terms of ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’, I am interested in the word “repatriation”. Repatriation means to send (someone) back to their own country – from the verb repatriare, from re- ‘back’ + Latin patria ‘native land’. It has an etymological link to the word “patriot” – from late Latin patriota ‘fellow countryman’, from Greek patriōtēs, from patrios ‘of one’s fathers’, from patris ‘fatherland’ – and all the imperial connotations that are associated with the word. So, to send someone back (against their own will? by force?) or to be patriotic, as belonging to or coming from, the fatherland. A land that is father, farther away. Therefore, it is with regard to a centralised, monolithic body and its materialities (for the body is usually centrally placed in Thompson’s work) in Thompson’s instinctive works, that relations of discourse and power will always produce hierarchies and overlappings which are going to be contested. As Judith Butler notes,

“That each of those categories [body and materiality] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.” (Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp. 66-67)

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Thus performativity is the power of discourse, the politicisation of abjection, and the ritual of being.

This is where I become conflicted by much of this work. Intellectually and conceptually I fully understand the instinctive, intuitive elements behind the work (crystals, flowers, maps, butterflies, dreams) but aesthetically I feel little ‘aura’ emanating from the photographs. Thompson’s “peripatetic life and your bowerbird, magpie-like fascination” (p. 107) lead to all sorts of influences emerging in the work – orange from The Netherlands, Morris dancers from England, Jewish heritage, Aboriginal and Australian heritage, fashion, pop culture, music, language – all evidenced through “acts of concealment in his self-portraits.” (p. 75). Now there’s the rub!

In Thompson’s ritual intimacies the intimacy is performed only once, for the camera. It is not didactic, but it is interior and hidden, leaving much to the feelings of the viewer, looking. The re-presentation of that intimacy is performed by the viewer every time they look at the art. I think of the work of one of my favourite performance artists, Claude Cahun, where the artist inhabits her personas, adorning her androgynous face with costume after costume to become something that she wants to become – a buddha, a double, a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. Cahun is always and emphatically herself, undermining a certain authority… and she produces indelible images that sear the mind.

I don’t get that from Thompson. I don’t know who he really is. Does it matter? Yes it does. In supposedly his most autobiographic work (according to Hetti Perkins), the video Heat (2010, below) the work emerges out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland where “heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair.” Perhaps for him or someone from the desert country like Hetti Perkins (as she states in the catalogue), but not for me. I feel no ‘heat’ from these three beautiful woman standing in a contextless background with a wind machine blowing their hair. The only ‘heat’ I felt was perhaps the metaphoric heat of colonisation, violence and abuse thrust on a vulnerable culture.

Talking of vulnerable cultures, in the work Polari (2014, below) Thompson invokes the history of languages in an intimate ritual “as he seeks to reanimate and repossess vanishing knowledge. Polari is a private language … a kind of code used by sailors, circus and fairground folk, and in gay circles. … Thompson’s Polari series warns us that the artist has a language of his own, which we can overhear but not fully understand: something is withheld, in contrast to the imposed and implacable exposure which the subjects of scientific collections were made to suffer in the past.” (Warner, p. 74) But why is he using Polari specifically, a language that is strongly associated with the libertine gay culture of the 1950s-70s? Does he have a right to use this word and its linguistic heritage because he is gay? It is never stated, again another thing left hidden, concealed and unresolved.

Although no culture can ever fully own its language (language is a construct after all) … if Thompson is not gay, then I would take exception to his invoking the Polari language, just as an Indigenous artist would take exception to me using Bidjara language in an art work of my own. I remember coming out in London in 1975 and speaking Polari myself when it was still being used in pubs and clubs such as the A + B club in Soho. It was not being used as a language of resistance, far from it, but as a language of desire. It was a language used to inculcate that desire. As a video on YouTube observes of speaking Polari, “you didn’t think, oh God I’m so oppressed I can never speak about myself, you just did it, you just slipped into it without thinking.” It was your own language, like a comfortable pair of slippers. Does Thompson understand how using that word to title a body of work could be as offensive to some people as he finds the denaturing of his own culture? For me this is where the work really becomes problematic, when an artist does not enunciate these connections, where things, like sexuality, remain hidden. Similarly, with historical photographs of Indigenous people taken for ethnographic study, Thompson fails to acknowledge the work of academics such as Jane Lydon and her important books Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians (2005) and Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (2016) where she unpacks the historical baggage of the images and notes that the photographs were not solely a tool of colonial exploitation. Lydon articulates an understanding in Eye Contact that the residents of Coranderrk, an Aboriginal settlement near Healsville, Melbourne, “had a sophisticated understanding of how they were portrayed, and they became adept at manipulating their representations.” Again, there is more than meets the eye, more than just ‘spiritual repatriation’ of aura.

For me, the magic of this exhibition arrives when Thompson lets go all obfuscation, let’s go all actions that make something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible. Where his ritual intimacies become grounded in language, earth and spirit. This happens in the video works, Desert slippers (2006, below), Refuge (2014, below), Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) (2011) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) (2011, below). In these videos, the Other’s gaze disintegrates and we are left with poignant, heart felt words and actions that engage history, emotion, family and Country.

The video Desert slippers “features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.” It is simple, eloquent, powerful, present. The other videos feature two baroque singers from Europe and Thompson singing in his native tongue Bidjara (Bidyara, Pitjara), a language that Wikipedia states “is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language. In 1980 it was spoken by twenty elders in Queensland, between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers.” Spelt out in black and white. Extinct. To hear Thompson sing a berceuse (French, from bercer ‘to rock’), or lullaby in his native language, a language taught to him by his father, is the most emotional of experiences. The work “combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture,” and “is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.” Amen to that.

This is the real hallowing, not the dress ups or the concealments. It is in these videos that the raw material of his and his cultures experience is transmuted into living, breathing stories, in an alchemical transmutation, a magical re-animation of past time into present and future time. My transfiguration into a more spiritual state was complete when listening in quiet contemplation. For I was given, if only for a very brief moment, access to the pain of our first peoples and a vision of hope for their future healing.

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… and certainly not dying.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the photographs and videos in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“At the heart of my practice is a concern with aura: what it is, how it can be photographed and how it can be repatriated.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled #6
2010
From the series King Billy
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Berceuse (2017)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse (extract installation view)
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

In this newly commissioned work, Thompson sings a berceuse – a cradle song or lullaby – that combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture. Intended as a gesture of re-imagining his traditional Bidjara language, which is been categorised as extinct, the work is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.

Thompson makes subtle reference to his maternal Sephardic Jewish roots by ruminating in this work on the lullaby Nani Nani:

 

Lullaby, lullaby
The boy wants a lullaby,
The mother’s son,
Who although small will grow.

Oh, oh my lady open,
Open the door,
I come home tired,
From ploughing the fields.

Oh, I won’t open them,
You don’t come home tired,
You’ve just come back,
From seeing your new lover.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Museum of Others (2016)

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Equilibrium
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

 

Museum of others is Thompson’s most recent photographic series and continues to reflect on his time at the University of Oxford. It features several ‘dead white males’ from the pantheon of British and Australian culture. The explorer, the ethnologist and the anthropologist all had roles in the process of colonisation in Australia but the art critic is particular to Thompson; Ruskin was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at University of Oxford, just as Thompson was one of its first Australian Aboriginal students. Thompson explains his motivation for the series:

“Historically, it was the western gaze that was projected onto the ethnic other and I thought I’ll create a ‘museum of others’ and I’ll be the one othering, so to speak. ‘Equilibrium’ is based around the idea that the vessel is the equaliser. The vessel is the cradle of all civilisations. We all have that in common.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series We bury our own 2010 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

We bury our own is a body of work that was developed in response to the historic collection of photography, featuring Aboriginal people from the late nineteenth century, at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Thompson noted in 2012 that these early images “have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and they have pushed me into new territory, they have travelled with me… I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs…”

Each of Thompson’s lyrical photographic images from We bury our own and Pagan sun feature himself partially disguised with props and costumes. The works are virtually monochromatic with elements highlighted in full colour, and his eyes, or face, are partially concealed or painted. The use of votive objects is explained in his equally lyrical 2012 statement: “I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Energy Matter
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Lamenting the flowers
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Forgiveness of Land
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Down Under World
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

 

“I conceived the We Bury Our Own series in 2010 after curator Christopher Morton invited me to develop a body of work that would be inspired by and in dialogue with the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum…

The archival images have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and pushed me into new territory; they have travelled with me to residencies at the Fonderie Darling in Montreal and Greene Street Studio, New York. I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs. The simplicity of a monochrome and sepia palette, the frayed delicate edges and the cracks on the surface like a dry desert floor that reminded me of the salt plains of my own traditional lands.

I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt, employing crystals and other votive objects that emit frequencies that can heal, ward off negative energies, psychic attack, geopathic stress and electro magnetic fields, and, importantly, transmit ideas.

I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work, I think with surprising results. Perhaps this is what art is able to do, perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present?

I heard a story many years ago from some old men, they told me about a ceremony where young warriors would make incisions through the flesh exposing the joints, they would insert gems between the bones to emulate the creator spirits, often enduring infection and agonizing pain or resulting in death. The story has stuck with me for many years, one that suggests immense pain fused with intoxicating beauty. The idea of aspiring to embody the creators, to transgress the physical body by offering to our gods our spiritual heart, freeing ourselves of suffering by inducing a kind of excruciating decadent torture. This was something that played on my mind during the production of this series of photos and video work. The deliverance of the spirit back to land – the notion that art could be the vehicle for such a passage, the aspiration to occupy a space that belongs to something higher than one’s physical self.”

Christian Thompson

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints) and a still from the video dead tongue 2015
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In Dead tongue Thompson continues to interrogate the implications of England’s empirical quest on the former colonies of the British Empire through the threat to or loss of Indigenous languages. In works such as this, Thompson actively challenges the perception that Aboriginal culture has become reduced to a captured trophy of Empire.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In … Imperial relic, he continues to use himself as the ‘armature for his characters, costumes and various props’. Drawing on his background in sculpture, he has created ‘wearable sculptures’ including a trumpet shaped shirt collar, an eruption of white flowers from a union jack hoodie, and an armature of maps. In each his face is partially or fully obscured again. “I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination,” he says. “So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ancient bloom
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ship of dreams
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

The series title Imperial relic, summarises the fundamental philosophy underpinning the colonial occupation of Australia. Like the nearby series We bury our own, it is closely connected to Thompson’s studies in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum and shares with the Australian graffiti series Thomson’s physical presence is standing in for the Australian landscape.

The work Ancient bloom alludes to the phonograph horn out which might be heard the voice of Fanny Cochran Smith, who’s wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only historical audio recordings of any of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. Is also represents a Victorian-era shirt collar – a motif that has appeared in Thompson’s work since his Emotional striptease series of 2003 – but here is exaggerated into a soft-sculptural form that both projects and stifles the voice.

In Death’s second self the artist’s face is uncovered but distorted by make up and digital postproduction effects.The title quotes William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:

As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In God and Kings Thompson is cloaked with a map of Aboriginal language groups like a coat of armour. In the Ship of dreams he reprises the motif of Australian flora obscuring his face but here his hoodie is stitched together from several flags: the red ensign (flown by British registered ships), the RAAF flag and the Australian flag.

 

“I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination … So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Isabella kept her dignity, I’m not going anywhere without you, Dead as a door nail and Hannah’s diary from the series Lost together 2009 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

On 13 February 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official apology to Aboriginal Australians for the Stolen Generations – the children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 under the respective Federal and State government policies of assimilation. At the time, Thompson was preparing to leave Australia for further studies aboard and felt this historic gesture allowed him to proudly take his culture and history with him as he ventured into the world.

Thompson photographed the series Lost together in the Netherlands while studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance at Amsterdam University. The theme of the orange throughout the series is a reference to the national colour of the Netherlands, while the tartan patterning refers to early clan societies in the United Kingdom. The combination of these different styles is based on counter-cultural aesthetics – particularly punk collage of 1970s London.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

Christian Thompson
Hannah’s Diary
2009
From the series Lost Together
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

MUMA | Monash University Museum of Art is proud to announce the first major survey exhibition of the work of Bidjara artist, Christian Thompson, one of Australia’s leading and most intriguing contemporary artists.

Thompson works across photography, video, sculpture, performance and sound, interweaving themes of identity, race and history with his lived experience. His work is held in the collections of major state and national art museums in Australia and internationally.

Thompson made history as one of the first two Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the University of Oxford as a Charlie Perkins Scholar, where he completed his Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art) in 2016. Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy opens as the artist looks forward to the graduation ceremony in July, when he will be conferred his degree.

Featuring a major new commission created for this exhibition, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy will survey Thompson’s diverse practice, spanning fifteen years, and will also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on the artist’s career and work, including essays by Brian Catling RA and Professor Dame Marina Warner DBE, CBE, FBA, FRSL.

The specially commissioned installation will be an ambitious multichannel composition, developing the sonic experimentation that is a signature of Thompson’s work. Incorporating Bidjara language, it will invite viewers into an immersive space of wall-to-wall imagery and sound:

“Bidjara is officially an endangered language but my work is motivated by the simple yet profound idea that if even one word of an endangered language is spoken it continues to be a living language,” Thompson says.

Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy explores the unique perspective and breadth of Thompson’s practice from the fashioning of identity through to his ongoing interest in Indigenous language as the expression of cultural survival. The new multichannel work will develop musical ideas Thompson has previously explored.

“It will be a much more ambitious iteration of a song in Bidjara. At one stage I’m singing on one screen and then other versions of me appear singing the melodies. I really see it as an opportunity to do something that’s more complex musically, more textured sonically – I also want it to be more intricate with my use of language,” the artist says.

Ritual Intimacy is curated by MUMA director Charlotte Day and guest curator Hetti Perkins. Day explains that the exhibition is part of MUMA’s Australian artist series, which affords the opportunity to look at each artist’s practice in depth. “Christian’s exhibition traces a particularly productive period of research and development, from early well-known works such as the Australian Graffiti series to more recent experiments with language in sound and song works,” Day says.

A long-time curatorial collaborator with Thompson, Perkins is the writer and presenter of art + soul, the ABC’s acclaimed television series about contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Thompson was accepted to Oxford University on an inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholarship, set up to honour Hetti Perkins’s famous father – a leader, activist and the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university. Perkins says the MUMA exhibition is well-earned recognition for Thompson’s work, which she featured in the second series of art + soul.

“Christian has spent periods of his adult life, as a practicing artist, away from home, but there is a common thread in his work, and it’s this connection to home or Country,” Perkins says. “In terms of the rituals or rites of the exhibition title, he is constantly reiterating that connection to home – through words, through performance, through his art, through ideas and writing,” she says.

Alongside performance and ritual, Thompson’s concept of “spiritual repatriation” is central to his work. Working with the Australian collection at famed ethnographic storehouse the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the artist was offered copies of colonial photographs of Aboriginal people but preferred not to work this way. Instead, he chose to spend significant periods of time with these ancestral images, absorbing their “aura” in order to then make his own artistic response that did not reproduce those original problematic images.

Dr Christian Thompson is a Bidjara contemporary artist whose work explores notions of identity, cultural hybridity, and history; often referring to the relationships between these concepts and the environment. Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound. His work focuses on the exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, race, and memory. In his live performances and conceptual anti-portraits he inhabits a range of personas achieved through handcrafted sculptures and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.

Press release from MUMA

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Polari (2014)

 

 

‘Polari’ is a form of cant or cryptic slang that evolved over several centuries from the various languages that converged in London’s theatres, circuses and fairgrounds, the merchant navy and criminal circles. It came to be associated with gay subculture, as many gay men worked in theatrical entertainment or joined ocean liners as waiters, stewards and entertainers at a time when homosexual activity was illegal. This slang rendered the speaker unintelligible to hostile outsiders, such as policeman, but fell out of use after the Sexual Offences Act (1967) effectively decriminalised homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Attracted to the theatricality and defiant nature of Polari (which he likens to the situation of Australian Indigenous languages under assimilationist policies), Thompson borrowed its name for the series which examines how subcultures express themselves.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Siren
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity II
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity III
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ariel
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ellipse
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

Polari was a form of slang used by gay men in Britain prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, used primarily as a coded way for them to discuss their experiences. It quickly fell out of use in the 70s, although several words entered mainstream English and are still used today. For more about Polari see Wikipedia.

 

 

Author and academic Paul Baker of Lancaster University discusses a form of gay slang known as Polari that was spoken in Britain. It was a secret type of language used mainly by gay men and some lesbians and members of the trans, drag and other communities in the United Kingdom in the 20th century until it largely died out by the early 1970s.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

Refuge is a video work by contemporary Australian artist Christian Thompson. Thompson sings in the endangered Bidjara language of his heritage. A collaboration with James Young formerly of ‘Nico’ and recorded the original track in Oxford, United Kingdom.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Heat (2010)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Heat (extract)
2010
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.52 minutes

 

 

Like the Australian graffiti photographs [see photographs below], Heat come out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland. Barcaldine is famous for its role in the foundation organised labor in Queensland and ultimately the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It also holds historical significance for Thompson’s family as it is where his great-great-grandfather, Charlie Thompson, surreptitiously bought a block of land before Aboriginal people could legally buy land, creating a safe haven for his family and other Aboriginal families at the time when Aboriginal people had few legal rights. For Thompson, heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair. It features the three granddaughters of Aboriginal rights pioneer Charlie Perkins, who are the daughters of Thompson’s Long time collaborator Hetti Perkins.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series Australian graffiti (2007)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (blue gum)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (banksia)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Monash University Collection

 

 

Australian graffiti was the last work that Thompson made before leaving Australia for Europe. It connects with his memories of growing up in the outback and its desert flowers, which he perceives to be both fragile and immensely powerful. I adorning himself with garlands of these flowers and flamboyant garments of the 1980s and 1990s – the period in which he grew up – Thompson juxtaposes these elements against his own Bidjara masculinity. By wearing native flora he also stands in for the landscape, invoking an Indigenous understanding of the landscape as a corporeal, living ancestral being.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Desert slippers
2006
Single-channel digital colour video, sound
34 seconds

 

 

Desert slippers was made at the time the Northern Territory government commissioned research into allegations of the abuse of children in Aboriginal communities. When the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was tabled the following year, the federal government under John Howard staged the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which quickly became known as ‘the intervention’. This action was enacted without consultation with Indigenous people and ignored the substantive recommendations of the report to which it was allegedly responding.

Thompson made this video, involving his father, and the ceremonial aspects of their daily lives, during this period. Desert slippers features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother) 
(extract installation view)
2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) were made in England and in the Netherlands respectively. While studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, a centre for the study of early musical styles such as the baroque, Thompson realised that his own Bidjara language could be interpreted through the matrix of another cultural context and sphere. He undertook operatic training with this in mind, choosing in the end to work with specialist singers Sonja Gruys and Jeremy Vinogradov to realise the two works.

 

 

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Caulfield East, VIC 3145
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11
Jul
13

Text: ‘Un/settling Aboriginality’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Brook Andrew: 52 Portraits’ at Tolarno Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 15th June – 20th July 2013

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Many thankx to Tolarno Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Download the text Un/settling Aboriginality (1.1Mb pdf)

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Un/settling Aboriginality

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Abstract: This text investigates the concepts of postcolonialism / neo-colonialism and argues that Australia is a neo-colonial rather than a postcolonial country. It examines the work of two Australian artists in order to understand how their work is linked to the concept of neo-colonialism and ideas of contemporary Aboriginal identity, Otherness, localism and internationalism.

Keywords: postcolonialism, postcolonial, art, neo-colonialism, Australian art, Australian artists, Aboriginal photography, hybridism, localism, internationalism, Otherness, Australian identity, Brook Andrew, Ricky Maynard, Helen Ennis.

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Australia and postcolonialism / neo-colonialism

Defining the concept of postcolonialism is difficult. “To begin with, “post-colonial” is used as a temporal marker referring to the period after official decolonisation,”1 but it also refers to a general theory that Ania Loomba et al. call “the shifting and often interrelated forms of dominance and resistance; about the constitution of the colonial archive; about the interdependent play of race and class; about the significance of gender and sexuality; about the complex forms in which subjectivities are experienced and collectivities mobilized; about representation itself; and about the ethnographic translation of cultures.”2

“Postcolonial theory formulates its critique around the social histories, cultural differences and political discrimination that are practised and normalised by colonial and imperial machineries… Postcolonial critique can be defined as a dialectical discourse which broadly marks the historical facts of decolonisation. It allows people emerging from socio-political and economic domination to reclaim their sovereignty; it gives them a negotiating space for equity.”3

While colonialism and imperialism is about territory, possession, domination and power,4 postcolonialism is concerned with the history of colonialism, the psychology of racial representation and the frame of representation of the ‘Other’. It addresses the ongoing effects of colonialism and imperialism even after the colonial period has ended.
“Past and present inform each other, each implies the other and… each co-exists with the other.”5 Even after colonialism has supposedly ended there will always be remains that flow into the next period. What is important is not so much the past itself but its bearing upon cultural attitudes of the present and how the uneven relationships of the past are remembered differently.6 While the aims of postcolonialism are transformative, its objectives involve a wide-ranging political project – to reorient ethical norms, turn power structures upside down and investigate “the interrelated histories of violence, domination, inequality and injustice”7 and develop a tradition of resistance to the praxis of hegemony.

McCarthy and Dimitriadis posit three important motifs in postcolonial art.8 Briefly, they can be summarised as follows:

1/ A vigorous challenge to hegemonic forms of representation in Western models of classical realism and technologies of truth in which the eye of the Third World is turned on the West and challenges the ruling narrating subject through multiple perspectives and points of view.

2/ A rewriting of the narrative of modernity through a joining together of the binaries ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’, ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’, and ‘civilised’ and ‘primitive’. “Culture, for these [postcolonial] artists, is a crucible of encounter, a crucible of hybridity in which all of cultural form is marked by twinness of subject and other.”9

3/ A critical reflexivity and thoughtfulness as elements of an artistic practice of freedom. This practice looks upon traditions with dispassion, one in which all preconceived visions and discourses are disrupted, a practice in which transformative possibilities are not given but have to worked for in often unpredictable and counter-intuitive ways.

According to Robert Young the paradigm of postcolonialism is to “locate the hidden rhizomes of colonialism’s historical reach, of what remains invisible, unseen, silent or unspoken” to examine “the continuing projection of past conflicts into the experience of the present, the insistent persistence of the afterimages of historical memory that drive the desire to transform the present.”10 This involves an investigation into a dialectic of visibility and invisibility where subjugated peoples were present but absent under the eye of the coloniser through a refusal of those in power to see who or what was there. “Postcolonialsm, in its original impulse, was concerned to make visible areas, nations, cultures of the world which were notionally acknowledged, technically there, but which in significant other senses were not there…”11 In other words, to acknowledge the idea of the ‘Other’ as a self determined entity if such an other should ever exist because, as Young affirms, “Tolerance requires that there be no “other,” that others should not be othered. We could say that there can be others, but there should be no othering of “the other.”12
The “Other” itself is a product of racial theory but Young suggests that “the question is not how to come to know “the other,” but for majority groups to stop othering minorities altogether, at which point minorities will be able to represent themselves as they are, in their specific forms of difference, rather than as they are othered.”13 Unfortunately, with regard to breaking down the divisiveness of the same-other split, “As soon as you have employed the very category of “the other” with respect to other peoples or societies, you are imprisoned in the framework of your own predetermining conceptualisation, perpetuating its form of exclusion.”14 Hence, as soon as the dominant force names the “other” as a paradigm of society, you perpetuate its existence as an object of postcolonial desire. This politics of recognition can only be validated by the other if the other choses to name him or herself in order to “describe a situation of historical discrimination which requires challenge, change and transformation… Othering was a colonial strategy of exclusion: for the postcolonial, there are only other human beings.”15

Important questions need to be asked about the contextual framework of postcolonialism as it is linked to race, culture, gender, settler and native: “When does a settler become coloniser, colonised and postcolonial? When does a race cease to be an oppressive agent and become a wealth of cultural diversities of a postcolonial setting? Or in the human history of migrations, when does the settler become native, indigenous, a primary citizen? And lastly, when does the native become truly postcolonial?”16

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This last question is pertinent with regard to Australian culture and identity. It can be argued that Australia is not a postcolonial but a neo-colonial country. Imperialism as a concept and colonialism as a practice are still active in a new form. This new form is neo-colonialism. Rukundwa and van Aarde observe that, “Neo-colonialism is another form of imperialism where industrialised powers interfere politically and economically in the affairs of post-independent nations. For Cabral (in McCulloch 1983:120-121), neo-colonialism is “an outgrowth of classical colonialism.” Young (2001:44-52) refers to neo-colonialism as “the last stage of imperialism” in which a postcolonial country is unable to deal with the economic domination that continues after the country gained independence. Altbach (1995:452-46) regards neo-colonialism as “partly planned policy” and a “continuation of the old practices”.”17

Australia is not a post-independent nation but an analogy can be made. The Australian government still interferes with the running of Aboriginal communities through the NT Intervention or, as it is more correctly known, Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007. Under the Stronger Futures legislation that recently passed through the senate, this intervention has been extended by another 10 years. “Its flagship policies are increased government engagement, income management, stabilisation, mainstreaming, and the catch cries “closing the gap” and “real jobs”.”18 As in colonial times the government has control of a subjugated people, their lives, income, health and general wellbeing, instead of partnering and supporting Aboriginal organisations and communities to take control of their futures.19

Further, Australia is still a colony, the Queen of England is still the Queen of Australia; Britannia remains in the guise of the “Commonwealth.” Racism, an insidious element of the colonial White Australia Policy (which only ended in 1973), is ever prevalent beneath the surface of Australian society. Witness the recent racial vilification of Sydney AFL (Aussie Rules!) player Adam Goodes by a teenager20 and the inexcusable racial vilification by Collingwood president Eddie McGuire when he said that Goodes could be used to promote the musical King Kong.21
“The dialectics of liberation from colonialism, whether political, economic, or cultural, demand that both the colonizer and the colonized liberate themselves at the same time.”22 This has not happened in Australia. The West’s continuing political, economic and cultural world domination has “lead to a neo-colonial situation, mistakenly called post-coloniality, which does not recognize the liberated other as a historical subject (in sociological theory, a historical subject is someone thought capable of taking an active role in shaping events) – as part of the historical transforming processes of modernity.”23 As has been shown above, Aboriginal communities are still thought incapable of taking an active role in shaping and administering their own communities. The result of this continuation of old practices is that Australia can be seen as a neo-colonial, not postcolonial, country.

Kathryn Trees asks, “Does post-colonial suggest colonialism has passed? For whom is it ‘post’? Surely not for Australian Aboriginal people at least, when land rights, social justice, respect and equal opportunity for most does not exist because of the internalised racism of many Australians. In countries such as Australia where Aboriginal sovereignty, in forms appropriate to Aboriginal people, is not legally recognised, post-colonialism is not merely a fiction, but a linguistic manoeuvre on the part of some ‘white’ theorists who find this a comfortable zone that precludes the necessity for political action.”24

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Two Australian artists, two different approaches

There are no dots or cross-hatching in the work of Ricky Maynard or Brook Andrew; no reference to some arcane Dreaming, for their work is contemporary art that addresses issues of identity and empowerment in different ways. Unlike remote Indigenous art that artist Richard Bell has labelled ‘Ooga Booga Art’ (arguing that it is based upon a false notion of tradition that casts Indigenous people as the exotic other, produced under the white, primitivist gaze),25 the work of these two artists is temporally complex (conflating past, present and future) and proposes that identity is created at the intersection of historically shifting subject positions, which destabilises any claim to an ‘authentic’ identity position and brings into question the very label ‘Aboriginal’ art and ‘Aboriginality’. By labelling an artist ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘gay’ for example, do you limit the subject matter that those artists can legitimately talk about, or do you just call them artists?
As Stephanie Radok has speculated, “surely as long as we call it Aboriginal art we are defining it ethnically and foregrounding its connection to a particular culture, separating it from other art and seeing it as a gift, a ‘present’ from another ethnography.”26 Be that as it may, artists can work from within a culture, a system, in order to critique the past in new ways: “The collective efforts of contemporary artists… do not reflect an escapist return to the past but a desire to think about what the past might now mean in new, creative ways.”27

Ways that un/settle Aboriginality through un/settling photography, in this case.

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Since the 1980s photographers addressing Indigenous issues have posed an alternative reality or viewpoint that, “articulates the concept of time as a continuum where the past, present and future co-exist in a dynamic form. This perspective has an overtly political dimension, making the past not only visible but also unforgettable.”28 The perspective proposes different strategies to deliberately unsettle white history so that “the future is as open as the past, and both are written in tandem.”29

Artists Ricky Maynard and Brook Andrew both critique neo-colonialism from inside the Western gallery system using a relationship of interdependence (Aboriginal/colonial) to find their place in the world, to help understand who they are and, ex post facto, to make a living from their art. They both offer an examination of place, space and identity construction through what I call ‘the industry of difference’.

Ricky Maynard works with a large format camera and analogue, black and white photography in the Western documentary tradition to record traditional narratives of Tasmanian Aboriginal people in order to undermine the myth that they were all wiped off the face of the planet by colonisation. Through his photography he re-identifies the narratives of a subjugated and supposedly exterminated people, narratives that are thousands of years old, narratives that challenge a process of Othering or exclusion and which give voice to the oppressed.

Portrait of a Distant Land is done through the genre of documentary in a way that offers authenticity and honest image making in the process. It has to deal with all those ethical questions of creating visual history, the tools to tell it with and how we reclaim our own identity and history from the way we tell our own stories. It comes from the extension of the way the colonial camera happened way back in the 19th century and how it misrepresented Aboriginal people. The Government anthropologists and photographers were setting up to photograph the dying race. Of course it simply wasn’t true. That was a way that colonial people wanted to record their history. You see those earlier colonial and stereotypical images of Aboriginal people in historic archives, their photographic recordings were acts of invasion and subjugation used for their own purpose.”30

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Ricky Maynard 'Coming Home' 2005

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Ricky Maynard
Coming Home
2005
from Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver print
34 x 52cm, edition of 10 + 3 AP

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“I can remember coming here as a boy in old wooden boats to be taught by my grandparents and my parents.

I’ll be 57 this year and I have missed only one year when my daughter Leanne was born. Mutton birding is my life. To me it’s a gathering of our fella’s where we sit and yarn we remember and we honour all of those birders who have gone before us. Sometimes I just stand and look out across these beautiful islands remembering my people and I know I’m home. It makes me proud to be a strong Tasmanian black man.

This is something that they can never take away from me.”

Murray Mansell Big Dog Island, Bass Strait, 2005 31

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Ricky Maynard. 'Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania' 2005

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Ricky Maynard
Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania
2005
from Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver print
34 x 52cm, edition of 10 + 3 AP

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“As late as 1910 men came digging on Vansittart and Tin Kettle Islands looking for skeletons here.
We moved them where none will find them, at the dead of night my people removed the bodies of our grandmothers and took them to other islands, we planted shamrocks over the disturbed earth, so the last resting place of those girls who once had slithered over the rocks for seals will remain a secret forever.”

Old George Maynard 1975 32

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Ricky Maynard. 'The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania' 2005

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Ricky Maynard
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania
2005
from Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver print
34 x 52cm, edition of 10 + 3 AP

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“It’s pretty important you know, the land, it doesn’t matter how small, it’s something, just a little sacred site, that’s Wybalenna.
There was a massacre there, sad things there, but we try not to go over that. Where the bad was we can always make it good.”

Aunty Ida West 1995 Flinders Island, Tasmania 33

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Maynard’s photographs are sites of contestation, specific, recognisable sites redolent with contested history. They are at once both local (specific) and global (addressing issues that affect all subjugated people and their stories, histories). Through his art practice Maynard journeys from the periphery to the centre to become a fully recognized historical subject, one that can take an active role in shaping events on a global platform, a human being that aims to create what he describes as “a true visual account of life now.”34 But, as Ian McLean has noted of the work of Derrida on the idea of repression, what returns in such narratives is not an authentic, original Aboriginality but the trace of an economy of repression: “Hence the return of the silenced nothing called Aboriginal as the being and truth of the place, is not the turn-around it might seem, because it does not reinstate an original Aboriginality, but reiterates the discourses of colonialism.”35
Sad and poignant soliloquies they may be, but in these ‘true’ visual accounts it is the trace of repression represented through Western technology (the camera, the photograph) and language (English is used to describe the narratives, see above) that is evidenced in these critiques of neo-colonialism (a reiteration of the discourses of colonialism) – not just an authentic lost and reclaimed Aboriginality – for these photographs are hybrid discourses that are both local/global, European/Indigenous.

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In his art practice Brook Andrew pursues a more conceptual mutli-disciplinary approach, one that successfully mines the colonial photographic archive to interrogate the colonial power narrative of subjugation, genocide, disenfranchisement through a deconstructive discourse, one that echoes with the repetitions of coloniality and evidences the fragments of racism through the status of appearances. “Through his persistent confrontation with the historical legacy of physiognomia in our public Imaginary”36 in video, neon, sculpture, craniology, old photography, old postcards, music, books, ethnography and anthropology, Andrew re-images and reconceptualises the colonial archive. His latest body of work 52 Portraits (Tolarno Galleries 15 June – 20 July 2013), is “a play on Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits projects, which lifted images of influential Western men from the pages of encyclopaedias, 52 Portraits shifts the gaze to the ubiquitous and exotic other.”37 The colonial portraits are screen-printed in black onto silver-coated canvases giving them an ‘other’ worldly, alien effect (as of precious metal), which disrupts the surface and identity of the original photographs. Variously, the unnamed portraits taken from his personal collection of old colonial postcards re-present unknown people from the Congo, Africa, Argentina, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Algeria, Australia, South America, etc… the images incredibly beautiful in their silvered, slivered reality (as of the time freeze of the camera), replete with fissures and fractures inherent in the printing process. Accompanying the series is an installation titled Vox: Beyond Tasmania (2013), a Wunderkammer containing a skeleton and colonial artefacts, the case with attached wooden trumpet (reminding me appropriately of His Master’s Voice) that focuses the gaze upon an anonymous skull, an unknowable life from the past. In the catalogue essay for the exhibition, Ian Anderson observes, “His view is global – and even though my response is highly local – I too see the resonances of a global cultural process that re-ordered much of humanity through the perspective of colonizing peoples.”38
While this may be true, it is only true for the limited number of people that will see the exhibition – usually white, well-educated people, “The realities of the commercial art world are such that it is chiefly the white upper crust that will see these works. Make of that what you will.”39 Through a lumping together of all minority people – as though multiple, local indigeneties can be spoken for through a single global indigeneity – Andrew seems to want to speak for all anonymous Indigenous people from around the world through his ‘industry of difference’. Like colonialism, this speaking is again for the privileged few, as only they get to see these transformed images, in which only those with money can afford to buy into his critique.

Personally, I believe that Andrew’s constant remapping and re-presentation of the colonial archive in body after body of work, this constant picking at the scab of history, offers no positive outcomes for the future. It is all too easy for an artist to be critical; it takes a lot more imagination for an artist to create positive images for a better future.

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 19 (Manitoba, Canada)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 19 (Manitoba, Canada)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm
Edition of 3 + 2 AP
Real photo postcard
Title: An Old Savage of Manitoba

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 9 (Arab)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 9 (Arab)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm
Edition of 3 + 2 AP
Real photo postcard
Title: Danseuse arabe
Publisher: Photo Garrigues Tunis – 2008
Inscribed on front: Tunis 20/8/04

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Conclusion

By the mid-eighties black and indigenous subjectivities were no longer transgressive and the ‘black man’s’ burden’ had shifted from being a figure of oblivion to that of a minority voice.40 Black subjectivities as minority identities use the language of difference to envisage zones of liberation in which marginality is a site of transformation. But, as Ian McLean asks, “Have these post or anti-colonial identities repulsed the return of coloniality?”41 In the fight against neo-colonialism he suggests not, when the role of minority discourses “are simultaneously marginalised and occupy an important place in majority texts.”42 Periphery becomes centre becomes periphery again. “Minority artists are not left alone on the periphery of dominant discourse. Indeed, they are required to be representatives of, or speak for, a particular marginalised community; and because of this, their speech is severely circumscribed. They bear a ‘burden of representation’.”43 McLean goes on to suggest the burden of representation placed on Aboriginal artists is one that cannot be escaped. The category ‘Aboriginal’ is too over determined. Aboriginal artists, like gay artists addressing homosexuality, can only address issues of race, identity and place.44

“Aboriginal artists must address issues of race, and all on the stage of an identity politics. Black artists, it seems, can perform only if they perform blackness. Reduced to gestures of revolt, they only reinforce the scene of repression played out in majority discourses of identity and otherness. Allowed to enter the field of majority language as divergent and hence transgressive discourses which police as much as they subvert the boundaries of this field, they work to extend certain boundaries necessary to Western identity formations, but which its traditions have repressed. In other words, minority discourses are complicit with majority texts.”45

As social constructs (the heart of the political terrain of imperial worlds) have been interrogated by artists, this has led to the supposed dissolution of conceptual binaries such as European Self / Indigenous Other, superior / inferior, centre / periphery.46 The critique of neo-colonialism mobilises a new, unstable conceptual framework, one that unsettles both imperialist structures of domination and a sense of an original Aboriginality. Counter-colonial perspectives might critique neo-colonial power through disruptive inhabitations of colonialist constructs (such as the photograph and the colonial photographic archive) but they do so through a nostalgic reworking and adaptation of the past in the present (through stories that are eons old in the case of Ricky Maynard or through appropriation of the colonial photographic archive in the case of Brook Andrew). Minority discourses un/settle Aboriginality in ways not intended by either Ricky Maynard or Brook Andrew, by reinforcing the boundaries of the repressed ‘Other’ through a Western photographic interrogation of age-old stories and the colonial photographic archive.

Both Maynard and Andrew picture identities that are reductively marshalled under the sign of minority discourse, a discourse that re-presents a field of representation in a particularly singular way (addressed to a privileged few). The viewer is not caught between positions, between voices, as both artists express an Aboriginal (not Australian) subjectivity, one that reinforces a black subjectivity and oppression by naming Aboriginal as ‘Other’ (here I am not proposing “assimilation” far from it, but inclusion through difference, much as gay people are now just members of society not deviants and outsiders).

Finally, what interests me further is how minority voices can picture the future not by looking at the past or by presenting some notion of a unitary representation (local/global) of identity, but by how they can interrogate and image the subject positions, political processes, cultural articulation and critical perspectives of neo-colonialism in order that these systems become the very preconditions to decolonisation.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
July 2013

Word count: 3,453 excluding image titles and captions.

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 7 (Australia)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 7 (Australia)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm
Edition of 3 + 2 AP
“An Australian Wild Flower”
Pub. Kerry & Co., Sydney One Penny Stamp with post mark on image side of card. No Address.

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 40 (Unknown)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 40 (Unknown)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm
Edition of 3 + 2 AP
“Typical Ricksha Boys.”
R.111. Copyright Pub. Sapsco Real Photo, Pox 5792, Johannesburg
Pencil Mark €5

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 44 (Syria)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 44 (Syria)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm Edition of 3 + 2 AP
Real photo postcard
Title: Derviches tourneurs á Damas
Printed on verso: Turquie, Union Postal Universelle, Carte postale

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Endnotes

1. Abraham, Susan. “What Does Mumbai Have to Do with Rome? Postcolonial Perspectives on Globalization and Theology,” in Theological Studies 69, 2008, pp. 376-93 cited in Kenzo, Mabiala Justin-Robert. What Is Postcolonialism and Why Does It Matter: An African Perspective. Nd [Online] Cited 13/06/2013.

2. Loomba, Ania et al. “Beyond What? An Introduction,” in Loomba, Ania et al. (ed.,). Postcolonial Studies and Beyond. Durham, N.C.: Duke University, 2005, pp.1-38.

3. Rukundwa, Lazare S and van Aarde, Andries G. “The formation of postcolonial theory,” in HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 63(3), 2007, p.1174.

4. “Neither imperialism nor colonialism is a simple act of accumulation and acquisition. Both are supported and perhaps even impelled by impressive ideological formations that include notions that certain territories and people require and beseech domination, as well as forms of knowledge affiliated with domination: the vocabulary of classic nineteenth-century imperial cultural is plentiful with such words and concepts as ‘inferior’ or ‘subject races’, ‘subordinate people’, ‘dependency’, ‘expansion’, and ‘authority’.”

Said, Edward. “Overlapping Territories, Intertwined Histories,” in Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto and Windus, 1993, p.8.

5. Ibid., p.2.

6. Ibid., p.19.

7. Young, Robert J.C. “Postcolonial Remains,” in New Literary History Vol. 43. No. 1. Winter 2012, p.20.

8. See McCarthy, Cameron and Dimitriadis, Greg. “The Work of Art in the Postcolonial Imagination,” in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 21(1), 2000, p.61.

9. Ibid., p.61.

10. Young, Op. cit., p.21.

11. Young, Ibid., p.23.

12. “Critical analysis of subjection to the demeaning experience of being othered by a dominant group has been a long-standing focus for postcolonial studies, initiated by Frantz Fanon in his Black Skin, White Masks (1952).”

Young, Robert J.C. “Postcolonial Remains,” in New Literary History Vol. 43. No. 1. Winter 2012, p.36.

13. Ibid., p.37.

14. Ibid., p.38.

15. Ibid., p.39.

16. Rukundwa, Op cit., p.1173.

17. Ibid., p.1173

18. Anon. “The 30-year cycle: Indigenous policy and the tide of public opinion” on The Conversation website 06/06/2012 [Online] Cited 16/06/2013.

19. Karvelas, Patricia. “Senate approves Aboriginal intervention by 10 years,” on The Australian website June 29, 2012 [Online] Cited 16/06/2013.

20. ABC/AAP. “AFL: Adam Goodes racially abused while leading Sydney to Indigenous Round win over Collingwood Sat May 25, 2013” on the ABC News website [Online] Cited 15/06/2013.

21. Anon. “Eddie McGuire, Adam Goodes and ‘apes’: a landmark moment in Australian race relations,” on The Conversation website, 31 May 2013 [Online] Cited 15/06/2013.

22. Araeen, Rasheed. “The artist as a post-colonial subject and this individual’s journey towards ‘the centre’,” in King, Catherine. View of Difference. Different Views of Art. Yale University Press, 1999, p.232.

23. Ibid.,

24. Trees, Kathryn. “Postcolonialism: Yet Another Colonial Strategy?” in Span, Vol. 1, No. 36, 1993, pp.264-265 quoted in Heiss, Anita. “Post-Colonial-NOT!” in Dhuuluu Yala (To Talk Straight): Publishing Aboriginal Writing in Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2003, pp.43-46.

25. Skerritt, Henry F. “Drawing NOW: Jus’ Drawn'” in Art Guide Australia, September/ October 2010, pp.34-35 [Online] Cited 17/06/2013.

26. Ibid.,

27. Ennis, Helen. “The Presence of the Past,” in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.141.

28. Ibid., p.135.

29. Ibid., “Black to Blak,” p.45.

30. Maynard, Ricky quoted in Perkins, Hetti. Art + Soul. Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Publishing, 2010, p.85.

31. Mansell, Murray quoted on the Stills Gallery website [Online] Cited 22/06/2013.

32. Maynard, George quoted on the Stills Gallery website [Online] Cited 22/06/2013.

33. West, Ida quoted on the Stills Gallery website [Online] Cited 22/06/2013.

34. Maynard, Ricky. “The Craft of Documentary Photography,” in Phillips, Sandra. Racism, Representation and Photography. Sydney, 1994, p.115 quoted in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.106.

35. McLean, Ian. “Post colonial: return to sender” 1998 paper delivered as the Hancock lecture at the University of Sydney on 11/11/1998 as part of the annual conference of the Australian Academy of Humanities which had as its theme: ‘First Peoples Second Chance Australia In Between Cultures’.

36. Papastergiadis, Nikos. “Brook Andrew: Counterpoints and Harmonics.” Catalogue essay for Brook Andrew’s exhibition 52 Portraits at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, June 2013.

37. Rule, Dan. “Brook Andrew: 52 Portraits,” in Arts & Entertainment, Lifestyle, in The Saturday Age newspaper, June 29th 2013, p.5.

38. Anderson, Pangkarner Ian. “Re-Assembling the trophies and curios of Colonialism & the Silent Terror.” Catalogue essay for Brook Andrew’s exhibition 52 Portraits at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, June 2013.

39. Rule, Dan. Op. cit.,

40. McLean, Ian. “Post colonial: return to sender” 1998.

41. Ibid.,

42. Ibid.,

43. Ibid.,

44. “Whether they like it or not, they [Aboriginal artists] bear a burden of representation. This burden is triply inscribed. First, they can only enter the field of representation or art as a disruptive force. Second, their speaking position is rigidly circumscribed: they are made to speak as representatives of a particular, that is, Aboriginal community. Third, this speaking is today made an essential component of the main game, the formation of Australian identity – what Philip Batty called ‘Australia’s desire to know itself through Aboriginal culture’.”

McLean, Ian. “Post colonial: return to sender” 1998.

45. Ibid.,

46. Jacobs observes, “As the work on the nexus of power and identity within the imperial process has been elaborated, so many of the conceptual binaries that were seen as fundamental to its architecture of power have been problematised. Binary couplets like core / periphery, inside / outside. Self / Other, First World / Third World, North / South have given way to tropes such as hybridity, diaspora, creolisation, transculturation, border.”

Jacobs, J. M. “(Post)colonial spaces,” Chapter 2 in Edge of Empire. London: Routledge, 1996, p.13.

.

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

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Brook Andrew
Vox: Beyond Tasmania (full piece and detail shots)
2013
Timber, glass and mixed media
267 x 370 x 271 cm

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.

Bibliography

Anderson, Pangkarner Ian. “Re-Assembling the trophies and curios of Colonialism & the Silent Terror.” Catalogue essay for Brook Andrew’s exhibition 52 Portraits at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, June 2013.

Araeen, Rasheed. “The artist as a post-colonial subject and this individual’s journey towards ‘the centre’,” in King, Catherine. View of Difference. Different Views of Art. Yale University Press, 1999, p.232.

ABC/AAP. “AFL: Adam Goodes racially abused while leading Sydney to Indigenous Round win over Collingwood Sat May 25, 2013” on the ABC News website [Online] Cited 15/06/2013.

Abraham, Susan. “What Does Mumbai Have to Do with Rome? Postcolonial Perspectives on Globalization and Theology,” in Theological Studies 69, 2008, pp. 376-93 cited in Kenzo, Mabiala Justin-Robert. What Is Postcolonialism and Why Does It Matter: An African Perspective. Nd [Online] Cited 13/06/2013.

Anon. “Eddie McGuire, Adam Goodes and ‘apes’: a landmark moment in Australian race relations,” on The Conversation website, 31 May 2013 [Online] Cited 15/06/2013.

Anon. “The 30-year cycle: Indigenous policy and the tide of public opinion,” on The Conversation website 06/06/2012 [Online] Cited 16/06/2013.

Ennis, Helen. “The Presence of the Past,” in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.141.

Heiss, Anita. “Post-Colonial-NOT!” in Dhuuluu Yala (To Talk Straight): Publishing Aboriginal Writing in Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2003, pp.43-46.

Jacobs, J. M. “(Post)colonial spaces,” Chapter 2 in Edge of Empire. London: Routledge, 1996, p.13.

Karvelas, Patricia. “Senate approves Aboriginal intervention by 10 years,” on The Australian website June 29, 2012 [Online] Cited 16/06/2013.

Kenzo, Mabiala Justin-Robert. What Is Postcolonialism and Why Does It Matter: An African Perspective. Nd [Online] Cited 13/06/2013.

King, Catherine. View of Difference. Different Views of Art. Yale University Press, 1999

Loomba, Ania et al. “Beyond What? An Introduction,” in Loomba, Ania et al. (ed.,). Postcolonial Studies and Beyond. Durham, N.C.: Duke University, 2005, pp.1-38

Maynard, Ricky. “The Craft of Documentary Photography,” in Phillips, Sandra. Racism, Representation and Photography. Sydney, 1994, p.115 quoted in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.106.

McCarthy, Cameron and Dimitriadis, Greg. “The Work of Art in the Postcolonial Imagination,” in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 21(1), 2000, p.61

McLean, Ian. “Post colonial: return to sender” 1998 paper delivered as the Hancock lecture at the University of Sydney on 11/11/1998 as part of the annual conference of the Australian Academy of Humanities which had as its theme: ‘First Peoples Second Chance Australia In Between Cultures’.

Papastergiadis, Nikos. “Brook Andrew: Counterpoints and Harmonics.” Catalogue essay for Brook Andrew’s exhibition 52 Portraits at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, June 2013.

Perkins, Hetti. Art + Soul. Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Publishing, 2010, p.85.

Phillips, Sandra. Racism, Representation and Photography. Sydney, 1994, p.115.

Rukundwa, Lazare S and van Aarde, Andries G. “The formation of postcolonial theory” in HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 63(3), 2007, p.1174.

Rule, Dan. “Brook Andrew: 52 Portraits,” in Arts & Entertainment, Lifestyle, in The Saturday Age newspaper, June 29th 2013, p.5.

Said, Edward. “Overlapping Territories, Intertwined Histories,” in Said, Edward. Culture and imperialism. London: Chatto and Windus, 1993, p.8

Skerritt, Henry F. “Drawing NOW: Jus’ Drawn'” in Art Guide Australia, September/ October 2010, pp.34-35 [Online] Cited 17/06/2013.

Trees, Kathryn. “Postcolonialism: Yet Another Colonial Strategy?” in Span, Vol. 1, No. 36, 1993, pp.264-265 quoted in Heiss, Anita. “Post-Colonial-NOT!” in Dhuuluu Yala (To Talk Straight): Publishing Aboriginal Writing in Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2003, pp.43-46.

Young, Robert J.C. “Postcolonial Remains,” in New Literary History Vol. 43. No. 1. Winter 2012, p.20.

.

“Brook Andrew’s newest exhibition is a blockbuster comprising 52 portraits, all mixed media and all measuring 70 x 55 x 5 cm.  The portraits are of unknown people from Africa, Argentina, Ivory Coast, Syria, Sudan, Japan, Australia … They are based on 19th century postcards which Brook Andrew has collected over many years. These postcards were originally made for an international market interested in travel.

‘Colonial photographers made a trade in photographic images, which were on sold as postcards and souvenirs,’ writes Professor Ian Anderson in Re-assembling the trophies and curios of Colonialism & the Silent Terror. According to Brook Andrew, ‘names were not recorded when Indigenous peoples were photographed for ethnographic and curio purposes. The history and identity of these people remain absent.  In rare instances, some families might know an ancestor from a postcard.’

The exhibition takes it title from a book of drawings by Anatomist Richard Berry: TRANSACTIONS of the ROYAL SOCIETY OF VICTORIA. Published in 1909, Volume V of this rare book contains FIFTY-TWO TASMANIA CRANIA – tracings of 52 Tasmanian Aboriginal skulls that were at the time mainly in private collections.

‘These skulls,’ says Brook Andrew, ‘represented a pan-international practice of collecting Aboriginal skulls as trophies, a practice dependent on theories of Aboriginal people being part of the most primitive race of the world, hence a dying species. This theory activated many collections and grave robbing simultaneously.’

In 52 Portraits Brook Andrew delves into hidden histories such as the ‘dark art of body-snatching’ and continues his fascination with the meaning of appearances. ‘He zooms in on the head and torso of young men and women,’ says Nikos Papastergiadis. ‘Brook Andrew’s exhibition, takes us to another intersection where politics and aesthetics run in and over each other.’

The original images embody the colonial fantasies of innocence and backwardness, as well as more aggressive, but tacit expression of the wish to express uninhibited sexual availability. Brook Andrew aims to confront both the lascivious fascination that dominated the earlier consumption of these images and prudish aversions and repressive gaze that informs our more recent and much more ‘politically correct’ vision. His images make the viewer consider the meaning of these bodies and his focus also directs a critical reflection on the assumptions that frame the status of these images.

The centre piece of the exhibition is a kind of Wunderkammer containing all manner of ‘curiosities’ including a skull, drawings of skulls, a partial skeleton, photographs, diaries, glass slides, a stone axe and Wiradjuri shield. Titled Vox: Beyond Tasmania, the Wunderkammer/Gramophone plays out stories of Indigenous peoples.

In the interplay between the 52 Portraits and Vox: Beyond Tasmania, Brook Andrew aims to stir and open our hearts with his powerful 21st century ‘memorial’.”

Press release from the Tolarno Galleries website

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Tolarno Galleries
Level 4
104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
T: 61 3 9654 6000

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 10 am – 5 pm
Sat 1 pm – 5 pm

Tolarno Galleries website

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10
Jul
09

Exhibition: ‘Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land’ at Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 4th June – 23rd August, 2009

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Ricky Maynard. Coming Home from the series Portrait of a Distant Land 2005

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Ricky Maynard
Coming Home
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
2005

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Ricky Maynard. 'The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2005

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Ricky Maynard
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
2005

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“This winter the Museum of Contemporary Art presents a major survey of photographic works by documentary photographer Ricky Maynard, encompassing more than two decades of the artist’s practice.

Portrait of a Distant Land features more than 60 evocative and captivating photographic works, drawn from six bodies of work, which document the lives and culture of Maynard’s people, the Ben Lomond and Cape Portland peoples of Tasmania.

The exhibition is curated by MCA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs Keith Munro and is presented at the MCA from 4 June until 23 August 2009. Born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1953 Maynard is a self taught documentary photographer now based on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia.

Maynard first came to prominence in the late 1980s with a photographic essay about Aboriginal mutton bird farmers and he has continued to document physical and social landscapes which form a visual record and representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

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Ricky Maynard. 'Arthur, Wik Elder' from the series 'Returning to Places that Name Us' 2000

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Ricky Maynard
Arthur, Wik Elder
from the series Returning to Places that Name Us
2000

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Ricky Maynard. 'Gladys Tybingoomba' from the series 'Returning To Places That Name Us Photograph' 2001

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Ricky Maynard
Gladys Tybingoomba
from the series Returning To Places That Name Us
2001

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Ricky Maynard. 'Custodians' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2007

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Ricky Maynard
Custodians
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
2007

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“For me, photographs have always been personal and I hope to convey the intimacy of a diary. Photography has the ability to tell stories about the world and how the photograph has power to frame a culture,” said Maynard, describing his practice.

The works presented in Portrait of a Distant Land survey a broad range of themes and issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today. It includes photographs which document sites significant to Maynard’s people: ranging from serenely beautiful landscapes which follow the song lines, tribal movements and historical displacement routes of his ancestors, to the confrontational and emotionally-charged images of Indigenous people incarcerated in the South Australian prison system.

The six photographic series by Maynard which are featured in the exhibition are The Moonbird People (1985-88), No More Than What You See (1993), Urban Diary (1997), In The Footsteps of Others (2003), Returning To Places That Name Us (2000) and Portrait of a Distant Land (2005- ). Together these works create a form of visual diary of multiple landscapes derived from collective oral histories of Maynard’s people.”

Press release from the MCA website

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Ricky Maynard. 'Vansittart Island' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2007

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Ricky Maynard
Vansittart Island
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
2007

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Ricky Maynard. 'The Spit' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2007

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Ricky Maynard
The Spit
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
2007

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Ricky Maynard. The Mission  Portrait of a Distant Land 2007

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Ricky Maynard
The Mission
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
2007

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Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
140 George Street
The Rocks, Sydney, Australia

Opening hours: 11 – 5pm daily

MCA website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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