CONTEMPORARY INDIGENOUS PHOTOGRAPHY FROM THE CORRIGAN COLLECTION
CONTEMPORARY INDIGENOUS PHOTOGRAPHY FROM THE CORRIGAN COLLECTION
curator GORDON CRAIG
First published in 2016 by The University of Queensland Art Museum on the occasion of the exhibition
Over the fence: Contemporary Indigenous photography from the Corrigan Collection UQ Art Museum, Brisbane: 6 August – 30 October 2016 © 2016 The University of Queensland, the artists and authors This publication is copyright. Apart from fair dealing for the purpose of private research, criticism or reviews, as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part may be reproduced by any means or process without the prior written permission of the publisher. Every attempt has been made to locate the holders of copyright and reproduction rights of all material reproduced in this publication. The publishers would be grateful to hear from any reader with further information. Views expressed in the publication are not necessarily those of the publisher. ISBN: 978174271637
Christian Bumbarra Thompson Untitled (Yellow Kangaroo Paw) (detail) 2007 (from the series ‘Australian Graffiti’) C-type photograph Reproduced courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney + Berlin.
CONTEMPORARY INDIGENOUS PHOTOGRAPHY FROM THE CORRIGAN COLLECTION
GORDON CRAIG RYAN PRESLEY with poems by GRAHAM AKHURST and comments by PAT CORRIGAN
Foreword – Campbell Gray............................................................................................... 8 Domain – Graham Akhurst .............................................................................................10 A brief overview of the development of photography – Gordon Craig...........................13 Destiny Dark / Destiny Light – Graham Akhurst...........................................................18 They say good fences make good neighbours – Ryan Presley.........................................21 Courage – Graham Akhurst............................................................................................ 24 Shields – Graham Akhurst.............................................................................................. 50 The camera as a political weapon – Gordon Craig..........................................................57 Trickle – Graham Akhurst.............................................................................................. 82 A collector’s perspective – Pat Corrigan......................................................................... 85 List of works.................................................................................................................... 90 Contributors & acknowledgements................................................................................. 92
TO CONSIDER CONTEMPORARY Australian Indigenous art without some awareness of the socio-political frame in which its production and promulgation occurs is impossible. This is especially true of the works in this exhibition, drawn from Pat Corrigan’s collection of contemporary Indigenous photography. The power of each image – the potency of the discourses that each one carries and the sharpness with which the photographic medium is used – is immediately apparent, with the result evident in their bold interrogations of important contemporary social issues. Hence it is also impossible to disconnect the centrality of these issues in contemporary Australian life from the Indigenous voices that raise them. This exhibition brings together works by 18 Australian contemporary artists exploring a range of themes including displacement and alienation, Country and spiritual ‘home’, prejudice and stereotypes, and, likewise, issues of identity, racism, and social control. The University of Queensland Art Museum’s motivation for developing this exhibition is based not only on the array of significant Australian artists represented here, but also in the key issues that the works explore, for the provocations they offer and for their strong potential for stimulating academic discussion and debate. Fortunately for our resources, a visionary man has already assembled these works and more in his personal collection. Pat Corrigan AM, a businessman, collector and philanthropist, has been collecting Indigenous art for some time. Indeed, two major publications have already been produced on his Indigenous collections. In his short essay in this publication, Pat reveals that his interest in this work is largely the same as ours – the power it has in contemporary Australian life.
I am personally grateful to Pat for his generosity in sharing this collection with us and for his kind support of the project and its publication. Sharing is perhaps Pat’s primal nature – it defines who he is. Pat’s capacity to share has extended towards many institutions and individuals across the country and covers a number of art forms. He has also established a reputation as a persistent encourager of emerging artists, lifting and building them up and enabling them to flourish more completely than they otherwise might. Indeed, Pat is a remarkable force within the arts in Australia. I thank the writers who have contributed to the accompanying publication, artist Ryan Presley and poet Graham Akhurst. My gratitude also goes to our Art Museum’s Project Manager, Gordon Craig, who has utilised his knowledge of photographic practice in curating this exhibition and writing for the publication. I am also grateful to the entire UQ Art Museum team, who bring extensive experience and work collaboratively to produce our program. Underpinning all of these expressions of gratitude is my abiding appreciation of the artists who have produced these great works and who give us cause to be unsettled and dissatisfied with where we stand on the important issues in life.
Dr Campbell Gray Director
Light glimmers off the opaque sandstone memorial. I sit. Open the news. Murri Mail elicits another occurrence of White Face disturbing: ‘When will the arts sector learn…no cultural appropriation…no racial profiling…White Face shouldn’t happen these days.’ There’ll be a protest. No doubt. And I, the Aboriginal, glimpse familiarity in dark faces— majority— I ponder the poor whites. I rallied once. Something about health. Maybe I’ll give a donation, be tax deductible. I went to high school with one—what was his name? Great at accounting, but aren’t they all…
Michael Cook Majority Rule (Memorial) 2014 inkjet print on paper Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane.
Michael Cook’s photographs represent an alternative history in which Aboriginal people triumphed over colonial settlement. He asks, ‘What if things had been different?’1 When the English first established their colony on the site of modern-day Sydney, the new arrivals were greatly outnumbered by the Indigenous locals. In his series ‘Majority Rule’, Cook imagines a very different modern Australia: ‘What if Aboriginal people were 96 percent of the Australian population and white people defined as the four percent?’2 In this world, Indigenous people comprise the majority of citizens who actively engage in contemporary city life. 1. Michael Hawker, “Michael Cook: Civilised,” The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, 2013), 104. 2. Michael Cook quoted in Louise Martin-Chew, Michael Cook: Majority Rule (Brisbane: Andrew Baker Art Dealer, 2014), 4.
A brief overview of the development of photography Gordon Craig
DESPITE THE BEST efforts of historians and photography enthusiasts, there is no definitive date for the ‘birth of photography’. However, it is generally considered to have taken place in the early 1800s, whereas its predecessor and the precursor to the pin-hole camera, the camera obscura – a device for projecting a naturally lit image through a small iris – can be traced back to both Ancient Greece and China. The first permanent photo-etching, created in July 1822, is attributed to French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce,1 who also produced the oldest known surviving photograph from nature, Le point de vue du Gras [View from the window at Le Gras] (1826).2 Meanwhile, Henry Talbot and Louis Daguerre both made claims to inventing photography in January 1839.3 For decades, photography was considered within the realm of science rather than art. The camera was conceived of as a device for accurately capturing images of the real world, and the resulting photographs were considered to document lived experience. Originally, the camera was prohibitively expensive for mass consumption, and to have one’s image captured in a photograph was a sign of high social status. By comparison, most people today carry a camera via their mobile phone and millions of photographs of people are uploaded to social media sites every single day. Not until the early 1900s was there a real consideration of the medium’s artistic capabilities. This was assisted by the fact that in 1901, Eastman Kodak released the first Box Brownie camera, a simple and relatively inexpensive device, which heralded the era of affordable and portable, do-it-yourself photography. The Surrealists were early proponents of the possibilities of photography as an artistic medium, particularly in the work of Man Ray through his use of hand-made photographic collages and photograms.
Commercial opportunities led to increasing competition in the development and consumption of domestic photography. In the field of publishing, the camera revolutionised newspapers and magazines, primary sources of news in the pre-television era, by giving the public ‘real’ images of stories that were otherwise only heard about on radio. High-quality lenses in rangefinder and single-lens reflex cameras brought a new mobility for press photographers that allowed them to produce superior images for publication. In the early 1990s, important steps into the digital era were taken. In 1992, a Kodak prototype of an altered Nikon F-801s camera, itself a recent introduction, was showcased in Australia. This large and cumbersome adaptation, about twice the size and weight of the standard camera, was priced at approximately 10 times that of a regular F-801s. It produced images that would pixelate beyond a postcard-size print – if you had access to a computer and printer that could manage the files. A decade later and the electronics involved had shrunk in both size and cost, to the point where high-end digital prints of a reasonable size were becoming a reality. Since then, successive cameras have brought us to the contemporary situation in which digital photography is the norm rather than the exception, and the technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Traditional film-based photography is becoming a niche corner of the field. Commercial viability will determine the future of film in its current format; a few years from now, gelatin and chemical photography may only exist in personal endeavours, much like in Niépce’s original experiments.
In the early 1980s, Indigenous Australian photography became more visible as a coherent ‘movement’. Several key exhibitions and events are recognised as being cornerstones of contemporary, urban Indigenous art: Koori art ’84 (1984); NADOC ’86 exhibition of Aboriginal and Islander photographers (1986); the establishment of the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative (1987); numerous programs in response to bicentenary celebrations (1988); Re-take: Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander photography (1998); the establishment of the proppaNOW Artist Group (2003), and Half light: Portraits from Black Australia (2008). More recently, Indigenous photography has featured in major international art events, such as the Venice Biennale; there have been important solo exhibitions of Tracey Moffatt’s and Michael Riley’s work; and the National Indigenous Art Triennials have been highly successful. The Asia Pacific Triennials of Contemporary Art have also included strong representation of Indigenous photographers over the past 20 years. Given the quality and political urgency of the work, this trend will surely grow stronger in the future.
1. Helmut Gernsheim and Alison Gernsheim, The history of photography: From the camera obscura to the beginning of the modern era (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1969), 57. 2. Ibid., 14. 3. Ibid.
Destiny Deacon Koori Gothic: Waiting for Brad 1995 (installation view at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery) three bubblejet prints Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
Destiny Deacon, like numerous other Indigenous artists, uses dark (in this instance, blak) humour in her work. Appropriately, ‘A laugh and a tear in every photo’ is the subtitle of a catalogue essay for her Museum of Contemporary Art survey exhibition Destiny Deacon: Walk & don’t look blak (2004). The exhibition title itself was a piercing and insightful statement contained in just five words, including one that is not recognised in most English-language dictionaries. A child-like inflection and spontaneity are evident in many of Deacon’s performative photographs; she rejects the ‘rules’ of photography, modern art and concepts of Indigenous representation. The apparent lack of a slick finesse in her artwork brings us back to the reality of daily life and the struggles encountered by many Indigenous people.
Black clouds unfurled on the horizon over angry country. Two families huddled together in the heat of fire. The hearth spat and yawed, whispering hope. A tall white man in uniform came to the door. Hardwood cracked and families wailed. Rain came and dumped sorrow.
Light trickled over damp land. Families rose on either side of the fence. Two small steps still there, empty. They grabbed their dolls. Nailed them in good. Peeking over at each other. Singing softly to one another. Can you hear? Time passed, families stayed, and black dolls turned white from exposure.
Destiny Deacon Over the Fence 2000 (from the series â€˜Sad & Badâ€™) Lambda print from Polaroid original Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
They say good fences make good neighbours Ryan Presley
WITH A CLICK and a flash, a sudden rendering of a moment in time is created. Photography is about the immediate capture of a desired image, through which an instant is suspended in lifelike detail while time and space continue to shift around it. This medium is now so ubiquitous that it has become the primary tool for documenting our daily lives and recording our important events. The significance of the photographic tool and its democratisation lies in the fact that it can communicate major political events as part of audacious journalism, as well as voice experiences of the oppressed by the oppressed. This exhibition, Over the fence: Contemporary Indigenous photography from the Corrigan Collection, presents examples of marginalised experiences and suppressed histories that are brought forward through the vivid realities that the photographic medium can present. Cameras arrived on the Australian continent in the 1840s. In terms of Aboriginal experience, they were primarily used to document our alleged decline and extinction. However, the reality of life from then until the 1850s was more complex. This was a time when the European colonists were often outnumbered by surrounding Aboriginal peoples and therefore had more in-depth and frequent interactions with different Aboriginal societies than most AngloAustralians do today. The Aboriginal people who lived and possessed the land in what is now known as the city of Brisbane were at first gracious towards the European presence that existed in the form of a restricted penal colony. Aboriginal people of the region gained access to trade and European goods, and advantage over rivalling groups. However, the relationship profoundly changed from the 1850s onwards with the granting of â€˜free settlementâ€™.1
Michael Aird’s research and exhibitions, such as Captured: Early Brisbane photographers and their Aboriginal subjects at the Museum of Brisbane in 2014, demonstrate this complexity. Here he points out that the people featured in the photographs participated out of their own volition. The exposure time of the photographic devices were rather long, often up to two minutes. Therefore, the subjects would have entered the studios on George and Edward Streets of their own accord, would have agreed to having their image taken, and then would have willingly been strapped into the body restraints that helped maintain their posture and position during the prolonged exposure process.2 The change in photographic usage was made manifest as the colonial establishment swelled and expanded over the Australian landmass. The camera became a tool to document Aboriginal people disparagingly and as objects. Often, photography would reinforce Darwinian and social eugenics ideals that were popular in Western European society during the early 1900s.3 The colonial press would publish photographs of dozens of Aboriginal men chained together by the neck and arms and flanked by their European horse-mounted captors.4 They would frequently be imprisoned together in confined ‘gaols’, which were little more than concentration camps. These shocking images, which are a profound indication of frontier violence and psychology, were taken after 1901, post Federation. Ricky Maynard’s series ‘Portrait of a Distant Land’ (2005) speaks to this relatively recent history. His suite of photographs offers serene and beautiful shots of islands that constitute the Tasmanian landscape and experience. A particular feature is Flinders Island, located off the north coast of Tasmania. This small island was the location where, after being pursued by colonial authorities, Aboriginal people were shipped for their own ‘safety’ from the violence perpetrated by the newly arrived British citizens. While their segregation on this island was assured to them as a temporary measure, it was enforced as permanent: no Aboriginal person who was sent to the offshore island returned. In the mid-nineteenth century, Truganini herself was recorded as saying, ‘I knew it was no use my people trying to kill all the white people now, there were so many of them always coming in by boats.’ Her resolve was to save as many of her people as possible.5 One can see her success in the
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 Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land (Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008), 45.
Ricky Maynard Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania 2005 (from the series ‘Portrait of a Distant Land’) silver gelatin photograph Reproduced courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney. © Ricky Maynard/Licensed by Viscopy, 2016.
Strong salt off water, voices battered by wind funnelling through, fence line shudders keeping red in. White gate rattles: donâ€™t you break. Trees grow strong inside â€”watered by? Hear the tempest hot Marking The island that took courage.
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 Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land (Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008), 23.
Ricky Maynard The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania 2005 (from the series ‘Portrait of a Distant Land’) silver gelatin photograph Reproduced courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney. © Ricky Maynard/Licensed by Viscopy, 2016.
work of Maynard: he is a Tasmanian Aboriginal man actively recording these important sites and recalling these experiences. Many other prominent examples of the internment of Aboriginal people on offshore islands exist, such as the history of Palm Island off the coast of Queensland and Rottnest Island off the coast of Western Australia.6 The similarities in colonial experiences as felt by Indigenous peoples in differing parts of the world are reflected in Fiona Foley’s work, Wild Times Call (2001). Physically separating people by a great distance and forcefully maintaining their confinement was a cornerstone of the ‘reservations’ of North America. Reservation enactments are clearly evident in what is remembered as the ‘Trail of Tears’: the process of the removal of Cherokee peoples from their lands and ‘The Long Walk’ as suffered by the Navajo. This process included their complete maltreatment and massacre, and was tantamount to ethnic cleansing. The First Nation peoples were allotted small partitions of land westward and were confined there by colonial law and military force.7 Reportedly, Hitler was fascinated by these internments and used these policies and processes as the foundation for the concentration camps that were constructed during his regime.8 The Aboriginal men who were photographically documented as chained and gaoled in the ‘frontier’ during the early 1900s were often ‘released’ into the custody of local pastoralists. Their literal imprisonment in a gaol was mediated for their presence as part of a stockman workforce, where their labour was the price for being outside of the direct building confinement.9 In sync with this practice was the offshore detention of Aboriginal men on Rottnest Island. They were detained en masse in cramped quarters, facing cruel and unusual treatment if they survived and an unmarked mass grave if they didn’t. In a rather macabre manner then, Rottnest is currently run and advertised as a tourist destination and luxury retreat.10 Today’s disproportionate incarceration of Aboriginal people, and the indefinite ‘processing’ of people seeking asylum in designated offshore zones, surely speaks of the past bleeding into our current everyday experience.
Fiona Foley Wild Times Call 2 2001 C-type photograph Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane.
At first glance, Wild Times Call is a slightly jarring body of work. For the series, Fiona Foley inserted herself into a highly controlled photoshoot; as an Australian Indigenous woman dressed in traditional clothes of the Seminole people of southern Florida in North America, she highlights the universal ill-treatment of Indigenous peoples. In her photographic practice, Foley addresses the objectification of Indigenous people, particularly women, through the Western gaze. She reclaims the camera so that it becomes the tool of those who were once oppressed. While the staged scenes suggest an era of anthropological studio photographs, these are shot on location. Foley disputes notions of a time that has passed or a culture that is on the brink of extinction. Instead, she proclaims that traditional ownership can still prosper in spite of European occupation and attempted genocides.
left: Fiona Foley Wild Times Call 3 2001 C-type photograph Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane.
above: Fiona Foley Wild Times Call 4 2001 C-type photograph Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane.
Fences are integrally linked to the colonial process in Australia. They visually demarcated areas of countryside with the concepts and property rights of British capital and property practice. The fence continues to provide a literal and ontological barrier for those who are deemed to not possess said property rights. This is part of Destiny Deacon’s work Over the Fence (2000) – after which the exhibition is named – where two protagonists who are similar or familiar are divided by an intervening structure. This is reminiscent of the division that is categorically necessary for the dispersal and control of various populations. Either of the subjects may be colloquially elevated or disparaged, but they will always be a reflection of some part they see in the other. Reflections are evidenced too in Michael Riley’s series ‘Sacrifice’ (1992), where another facet of the invasive colonial culture is visually pronounced: Christianity. When a force assumes control over a country and its people, vastly different needs have to be met for the dominion over different resources, be they mineral or human. The aptitude of a conversion-based religion to aid such an endeavour is that its own requirements are complementary, for it is also engineered to expand. Missionary work may aid the transition for the mental and spiritual assimilation of any ‘foreign’ thinking and believing group of people. The narrative of Jesus Christ’s life and death can be read in terms of political oppression. He lived and preached within the borders of the occupied Roman Palestine. It is completely understandable that he preached of compassion and a ‘higher power’ as a mode to resist the tangible subordination felt by the non-Roman peoples of the region. It seems then that his death by crucifixion, which was often reserved for people seen as dissidents to Roman rule, was more than coincidental.11 The appropriation of his revolutionary teaching, however, had drastic implications, especially when it was used as part of the governance of Rome’s expanding empire. Riley’s ‘Sacrifice’ details various icons of Christianity and also of the colonial experience in Australia. The motif of the crucifix is repeated, once as a tombstone, again as a bodily adornment, and again also as an obscured presence. Fish – another symbol of Christianity – are also represented in multiplicity. A further image in the series presents three foodstuffs that were typical of the rations provided to Aboriginal people in colonial times: flour, sugar, and tea.
Michael Riley Untitled 1992, printed 2004 (from the series ‘Sacrifice’) fifteen chromogenic pigment prints Reproduced courtesy of the artist’s estate and The Commercial, Sydney. © Michael Riley Foundation/Licensed by Viscopy, 2016.
‘As Aboriginal people, we have to sacrifice ourselves, something of ourselves, all the time to be a bit more like what non-Aboriginal people want us to be. Sacrifice was the first conceptual exhibition; the first time I had reflected on Christianity, and history of mission life, Aboriginal missions. I was exploring images from childhood – being sent to Sunday School and wondering what the hell this strange concept of religion is for an Aboriginal kid growing up in the bush. It’s about history, about how Aboriginal people were thrown onto reserves and missions and told not to speak languages, not to conduct ceremony or song.’ Michael Riley interviewed by Hetti Perkins, quoted on the Michael Riley Foundation website, www.michaelriley.com.au/sacrifice-1992/.
Importantly, these items were often distributed on ‘missions’. The encampments were overseen by an array of Christian denominations that also had links to the general colonial governing hierarchies. They were similar in nature to the ‘reservations’ in North America: a small tract of land that Aboriginal people were forcibly restricted to while the colonial entity expanded around them. Of particular note in ‘Sacrifice’ is the pair of hands that are held palm up. They bear the nail wounds typically associated with the processes of crucifixion, referred to as Stigmata. This alleged phenomenon is generally experienced by people who claim to be devout Christians and who, in demonstration of their devotion, produce these physical wounds spontaneously and without experiencing pain. The question within Riley’s work may be whether the affected protagonist is bleeding from symptoms of violence, symptoms of assimilation into an introduced religion and way of thinking, or as a gesture of similarity and understanding of the central tragic hero in the Christian text. Tony Albert’s works Brother (Our past), Brother (Our present), and Brother (Our future) (2013) echo this experience of a possible violent encounter. The works each present a young Aboriginal man against a dark background, with only their head, arms and torso visible. A prominently marked red bullseye is painted on each of their chests. The lighting effectively foregrounds this marking and it becomes a focal point of their presented being. Their combined body language appears as a mix of bravado and apprehension. It is as though they may be targeted at any time. This continued danger is exemplified through the bracketed portions of the titles. Brothers was informed by the point blank police shooting of an Aboriginal teenager in Sydney in 2012. However, the work reiterates the continued occurrence of oppression and violence enacted on Aboriginal people (in this case, young men), which is often indirectly sanctioned by the wider general public. Vernon Ah Kee’s wegrewhere #2 (2009) also features three male Aboriginal subjects. They are slightly older than the men in Albert’s photographs, and are dressed in striking and vibrant (bordering on fluorescent) surf fashion wear. Between the three of them, they possess two
‘Tony Albert’s photographs remind us that First Nations people still suffer a sense of being persecuted in a society that has purportedly overcome the injustices of the past. He made the 2013 series ‘Brothers’ after the 2012 police shootings of two Indigenous teenagers involved in a car chase in Kings Cross, Sydney, in which a female pedestrian was injured. At a rally to condemn the heavy-handedness of the police response, Albert witnessed a group of young Indigenous men arrive shirtless with targets painted on their chests.’ Samantha Littley, Conflict: Contemporary responses to war (Brisbane: The University of Queensland, 2014), 9–11.
previous pages: Tony Albert Brother (Our past) 2013 pigment print on paper Reproduced courtesy of the artist and sullivan+strumpf. Brother (Our present) 2013 pigment print on paper Reproduced courtesy of the artist and sullivan+strumpf. right: Tony Albert Brother (Our future) 2013 pigment print on paper Reproduced courtesy of the artist and sullivan+strumpf.
surfboards, each of which is custom printed and based on traditional shield motifs from the Northern Queensland rainforest region. The designs seem at once to clash with and match the intensity of the vibrant surf wear, which was then a highly popular form of clothing and social display, often expensive. The branding itself sometimes borrows from Aboriginal cultural qualities – such as the brand ‘Billabong’. The men are standing on a Gold Coast beach, at a nexus of tourism and Anglo-Australia, between the city and the sea. The title references the 2005 Cronulla Riots that erupted following an alleged violation of the dominant beach culture in New South Wales. wegrewhere #2 is an effective document that assertively inverts the ‘we’ in the statement ‘We grew here’ that was hurled at Lebanese people in the 2005 events, and exposes the embedded cultural hypocrisy and façade of Australian society. It subtly raises the question of who in fact ‘flew’ here or ‘blew’ here. The works of art in this exhibition stand as documents of time; their choreography and presentation represent the thinking and assertion of the artists involved. So many public images that are proliferated and distributed undergo this construction. The photographic medium allows Aboriginal people to establish our voices – in tandem, in opposition, with or without conflict, or just to be present. To be present is to account for our own knowledge or belief, whatever that may be. That is the beauty of the photographic process: an image may be constructed and distributed to reflect lesser-known or suppressed experience. Its availability provides egalitarian access to modes of effective visual expression. In terms of time, all we really have is the present and yesterday. The photograph, and its analysis, has become the quintessential tool for the recollection of recent yesterdays.
1. Libby Connors, Warrior: A legendary leader’s dramatic life and violent death on the colonial frontier (Melbourne: Allen & Unwin, 2015). 2. Michael Aird, “Aboriginal people and four early Brisbane photographers,” Calling the shots: Aboriginal photographies, ed. Jane Lydon (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2014), 140. 3. Rachel Perkins, dir., “Episode 2: Her will to survive,” First Australians: The untold story of Australia (Sydney: Blackfella Films and Special Broadcasting Service Corporation, 2008), DVD, first aired on SBS, 18 April. Available for download: http://www.sbs.com.au/firstaustralians/index/index/epid/2. 4. For a detailed discussion of these images, see Jane Lydon, “‘Behold the tears’: Photography as colonial witness,” History of Photography 34, no. 3 (2010): 234–250. A good example of one of these images is reproduced on page 241 of Lydon’s article; the credit line is as follows: ‘Photographer unknown. “The treatment of Aborigines – Prison life in the Nor’ west,” The Western Mail, illustrated supplement (18 February 1905), 24. Newspapers Collections, State Library of Victoria.’ 5. James Boyce, “Towlangany: To tell lies – ‘What business have you here?’,” in First Australians, ed. Rachel Perkins and Marcia Langton, 2nd ed. (Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, 2010), 59. 6. For a detailed investigation of Rottnest Island, see John Pilger, Utopia (Sydney: SBS, 2013), DVD. 7. Ethan Davis, “An administrative trail of tears: Indian removal,” American Journal of Legal History 50, no. 1 (2008–2010): 49–100. 8. John Toland, Adolf Hitler: The definitive biography (New York: Anchor Books, 1976). 9. Lydon, “‘Behold the tears’.” 10. Pilger, Utopia. 11. See Karen Armstrong’s Fields of blood: Religion and the history of violence (London: Vintage, 2015) or John Crossan’s Jesus: A revolutionary biography (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishing, 1994).
wegrewhere is a series of five photographs that are part of Vernon Ah Kee’s larger project CantChant. The works have roots in several events, most notably the Cronulla Riots in December 2005, where aggressive Islamophobia by white ‘locals’ was summarised in their rally-call ‘We grew here, you flew here.’ The irony of a large group of white people chanting this slogan was lost on the rioting mob, but acutely noted by many others. Ah Kee also draws attention to notions of Australian identity tied to beach/surf culture that are not inclusive of Indigenous people because of the presumption that they are ‘in-landers’. Ah Kee’s application of rainforest shield designs from North Queensland onto surfboards also harks back to the historical battles that have occurred on our beaches, notably in early contact with Europeans.
Vernon Ah Kee wegrewhere #2 2009 digital print on Fujiflex paper Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.
â€”ocre, spun by warriorâ€” dip and judder over concept of time circle, compelled, glide in after smacked lips. Black foot in the sand: imprints disappear with next shore break. Eyes raise, brow furrows. Witness.
Vernon Ah Kee wegrewhere #3 2009 digital print on Fujiflex paper Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.
‘Fever’ is an apt title for Brenda L. Croft’s series. The artworks contain a hallucinogenic, almost psychedelic aura, but their reference is closer to that of a medical impairment than a euphoric celebration. In this work, Croft alludes to the historical treatment of Indigenous people, particularly women, by Westerners. Her overlaying and pastiche of images suggests ongoing cultural appropriation and objectification. In Irrisistable/Irresistible, nothing is entirely clear, further blurring possible meanings, while the word play in its title highlights how the English language has been imposed upon Indigenous people, often to the loss or diminishment of their own.
Brenda L. Croft Irrisistable/Irresistible 2000 (from the series ‘Fever’) Fuji Crystal Archive print on Lexan Reproduced courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney. © Brenda L Croft/Licensed by Viscopy, 2016.
Vegemite is marketed as a ‘true blue’ Aussie icon that everyone in this country enjoys, but it is portrayed primarily as a white person’s product. The word also has a history as a derogatory term for Indigenous people. In Koorimite Kid, Cole addresses the dominance of this odd product – its key ingredient is yeast, derived from the remnants of beer-brewing – and twists the wholesome (white) goodness as claimed by the original product. The wit of Cole’s words is underlined by the importance of knowing where one is from: Bunjil is an eagle spirit figure in Wathaurung mythology, the creator and protector of the lands and the people.
Bindi Cole Chocka Koorimite Kid 2008 digital print on cotton rag Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Nellie Castan Projects, Melbourne.
Curatorâ€™s note I am not from Australia, but I have lived here all of my life. As a first-generation Scottish-Australian (my parents migrated on a very large boat that was warmly welcomed in 1965), I feel a strong connection to, and love for, my birthplace. But this land is not my land. I am a guest, and I confirm my respect for all of Australiaâ€™s Indigenous peoples, especially the Turrbal and Jagera peoples upon whose land IÂ live and work. My words are intended as a consideration for broader discussions; I am not claiming to represent the views of Indigenous peoples, nor am I attempting to resolve or justify socio-political issues. We still have so far to go.
The camera as a political weapon Gordon Craig
One starting point
IN 1770, CAPTAIN James Cook ‘discovered’ Australia while journeying on the Pacific Ocean to witness a transit of Venus. Of course, the question is how can a place that has been continuously occupied for at least 40,000 years suddenly be discovered. Cook viewed the solar event, where Venus moves across the path of the Sun, in Tahiti. (A transit of Venus assists in calculating the distance of Earth to the Sun, which aided in determining navigational positioning.) Following his recording of the transit, Cook then went in search of the Southern Land. He and his party documented the events, people and places they encountered, much in the manner that the camera was used several decades later. To Europeans, the Age of Discovery was very important and exciting, while the consequences for the Indigenous peoples who were about to be colonised/invaded were far from their minds. Meanwhile, Indigenous peoples continued to record their cultures, albeit in different forms, such as oral histories (particularly through song) and rock art. In recent times, the most tangible examples of these records are used as evidence of their proof of ownership over the lands. Indigenous people today still record their stories, including through the photographic medium. Cook’s 1770 voyage was followed by the arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip at the helm of the First Fleet in 1788.1 The inaccurate claim of terra nullius over the lands that we now call Australia, which was declared by the English, can be seen as the catalyst for modern Indigenous activism. This in turn can be argued as being at the core of contemporary Indigenous art, in all its varied forms.
There is a story that when the First Fleet departed England for Australia, France responded by sending their own party in an effort to catch up to them, but missed by one week. The French reportedly had sent a fleet to claim the land as a research colony as opposed to a penal colony. While an interesting legend, it is inaccurate. Shortly after landing at Botany Bay in 1788, Captain Phillip encountered two ships flying heraldic fleur de lys flags, rather than the French tricolore. The ships La Boussole and L’Astrolabe were being led by Count La Pérouse, who was already known to the English.2 But Indigenous peoples were here first, and it is immaterial to them whether the colonising/ invading force was from England, France, or any other country.
Twenty years ago, the successful landmark Wik claim in Far North Queensland recognised that traditional land rights were not extinguished by pastoral leases. It followed the Mabo decision on 3 June 1992 in which the claim of terra nullius was officially overruled by the High Court of Australia. This was the result of a decade-long legal campaign by Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo, who sadly had passed away in January of the same year. Both of these events occurred in the wake of the 1967 Referendum – or, more accurately, the vote on Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) 1967 – that resulted in the Indigenous peoples of Australia being officially recognised as citizens, as opposed to being counted within the realm of the flora and fauna of this country. Nearly 50 years on, however, little has changed in our wider society. At the time of the Wik claim, scaremongering over the possibility of people’s homes being ‘prime targets’ for future claims were rife. The NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) reaction was encouraged by those opposed to Indigenous land claims. Inherent in their approach was an inference that land claims in the outback were tolerable, but not if they were ‘over the fence’ – or worse, if it was a claim on the homes of hard-working Australians and their sacrosanct suburban block.
Christian Bumbarra Thompson Invaded dreams 2012 (from the series ‘We bury our own’) C-type photograph Reproduced courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney + Berlin.
Invaded dreams is from Christian Bumbarra Thompson’s series ‘We bury our own’. Thompson made the series in response to an archive of historic photographs that were taken in Australia but are now housed in the collection of the Pitt River Museum, University of Oxford, UK, home to that University’s anthropology and world archaeology collections. Thompson recently completed his PhD at Oxford, and was one of the first two Australian Indigenous students to attend the prestigious institution. In Invaded dreams, Thompson wears the formal white-tie dress of an Oxford student and holds a model of a famous Tudor warship, the Mary Rose, which proudly flies the Union Jack. By obscuring his head, he raises questions about his own multicultural identity, and highlights his ambiguous position as a descendant of both a colonised people and the colonising power.
Christian Bumbarra Thompson Untitled (Yellow Kangaroo Paw) 2007 (from the series â€˜Australian Graffitiâ€™) C-type photograph Reproduced courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney + Berlin.
From little things… Reflecting upon his formative years and his journey as an Indigenous activist, Richard Bell recently spoke about how he felt in 1970: I couldn’t understand how we Aborigines could be the descendants of the owners of the lands that we were living on but still be so impoverished and oppressed. I started learning about black consciousness and the fact that we Aborigines have rights that are inalienable.3 In 1966, Vincent Lingiari of the Gurindji people led a walk-off on Wave Hill Station in protest against the disparate pay and working conditions of Indigenous workers in comparison to their white co-workers. He famously refused the offer of a pay rise and improved working conditions, and instead pushed for official recognition of ownership of traditional lands. In 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam officially recognised the land claim with a ceremonial passing of sands from his hand, as the leader of the nation, to Lingiari’s hand. A young photographer was on site to capture the occasion – Mervyn Bishop, the first Indigenous photographer employed fulltime by the Sydney Morning Herald. The actual soil-passing ceremony occurred in a small hut. However, as limited natural lighting and the general set-up didn’t work photographically, Bishop asked for the two key participants to re-enact the event in the open landscape. In the process, an iconic image of the earnest efforts of the Government was re-presented for the camera in the bright light and open space of the outback. A staged photographic performance occurred and was reported and published as fact of the day. This decision acts as a touchstone in this exhibition, as it heralds a key marker in Indigenous photography: it was a black photographer, not a white one, who pushed for the staged shot. Bishop recognised that the moment was important both in his position as an Indigenous person and in his capacity as a press photographer. The power of the camera has a universality that other artistic mediums cannot easily attain, and is something that the vast majority of humankind now experience – often daily, and sometimes obsessively.
Nici Cumpston Nookanta Rushes, Lake Bonney 2008 (from the series â€˜Attestingâ€™) inkjet print on canvas, hand coloured with watercolours and pencils Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Michael Reid, Sydney + Berlin.
Nici Cumpston works within the genre of landscape photography, infusing her hand-coloured photographs with deeper meaning through her Indigenous connection to land. In the series ‘Attesting’, Cumpston investigates the wide-reaching effects that have occurred due to changes to the Murray–Darling River system as a result of farming and industrialisation. The waterways are a complex series of rivers and tributaries that run through Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and the environmental impact of inadequate and uncoordinated river management is evident in Cumpston’s ‘portraits’ of dead trees.
James Tylor (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #1 2013 inkjet print on HahnemĂźhle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void Reproduced courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.
right: (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #3 2013 inkjet print on HahnemĂźhle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void Reproduced courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.
Loss is a common theme in Indigenous art: loss of lands, of traditions and of rights. James Tylor’s ‘untouched landscape’ depicts a neat but far-from-pristine scene. The first inhabitants saw their Country sacrificed for widespread land clearing and modern farming. Tylor, who has a mix of Indigenous, Maori and European heritage, draws attention to the environmental impact of colonisation and the industrial exploitation of lands in Australia and across the Pacific island nations. The holes that Tylor cuts into his photographs to expose an underlay of black velvet signify the removal of Indigenous people from the land they once occupied.
James Tylor (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #4 2013 inkjet print on HahnemĂźhle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void Reproduced courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.
right: (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #14 2013 inkjet print on HahnemĂźhle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void Reproduced courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.
In Sexy and dangerous, Brook Andrew reclaims the colonial gaze evident in the pose of the unidentified Indigenous man. Andrew appropriated the image from Aboriginal chief, a carte-de-visite produced by Kerry & Co., Sydney, sometime between 1901 and 1907. Andrew subverts the sitter’s anonymity and celebrates him as a powerful individual. Desire and fear are articulated through the titular text across the man’s chest, but the partially obscured Chinese characters are an incongruous mismatch that reads as something different – a rough translation is ‘feminine cunning’, which in turn alludes to sexual fluidity in the context of this image.
Brook Andrew Sexy and dangerous 1996 digital C-type photograph Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.
Photographic legitimacy Within the realm of contemporary photography, a debate continues about the ‘genuine’ photographer/artist and others who utilise the medium by working collaboratively with photographers. I propose that varied ways of engaging with the medium exist that are based on intent, rather than on training. In his seminal 1936 essay “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction”, Walter Benjamin wrote, ‘… photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions which henceforth devolved only upon the eye looking into a lens’.4 Often, because of the association of the medium with ideas of capturing reality and the presentation of authenticity, photography lends itself as the ideal platform to resolve a creative idea. The notion of the authenticity of the photograph was based on numerous assumptions related to the mechanical nature of capturing images, and the history of the medium during the heyday of photojournalism (in the pre-television era) as a window on the world. While this idea was debunked several decades ago, photography still maintains an aura of pure documentation. But just as has been the case since the inception of photography, any chosen image is mediated by factors such as cropping, exposure and selective focus during shooting. In the darkroom, there are various additional tricks at hand to doctor an image; in the digital era, dedicated computer programs expand such possibilities to a level not previously imagined, from an act of deception (such as removing elements of the original image) to outright creative intervention that is presented as a key element of the artistic process, where the artist does not attempt to camouflage their endeavours. The artists in this exhibition adopt various ways of utilising photographic media: James Tylor, Nici Cumpston and Ricky Maynard have all trained in photography and each creates artworks about the land and the damage and degradation resulting from human activity in the postcolonial era. Tylor’s series (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape (2013) considers the impact of land clearing on places of Indigenous importance, symbolised by the cutting out of geometric sections of his images, revealing a black velvet void.5
Darren Siwes Pre Sense 2003 Cibachrome Reproduced courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.
right: Just is for the Lucky Few 2003 Cibachrome Reproduced courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.
The displacement of Indigenous people forms a key aspect of Darren Siwesâ€™s photographs, particularly in his early career artworks. His mastery of the medium is evident in his long exposures at night, working with an unforgiving film format. He and others appear as ghost-like apparitions within modern urban street scenes. The European-style architecture that dominates these scenes has little or no trace of the Indigenous people who first lived there. Their presence will always be there, but their visibility may rely on whether people look for them. Siwes is proud of both his Indigenous and Dutch ancestry, and the achievements and stories of his forebears. At the same time, he highlights the dominance of European over Indigenous culture in contemporary Australia, and his play on the English language in his titles demonstrates how a minor shift can dramatically change meaning.
Cumpston has focussed on waterways, notably the Murray–Darling River system, where water diversions for farming and problems with salinity have had a devastating effect in recent decades. The political response to addressing these issues has been slow, as competing agricultural and environmental concerns prove too hard to balance. Comparisons may be made between Cumpston’s works and those of Maynard in terms of a classical approach to landscape photography and the loaded implications inherent in the depicted sites. While Maynard’s scenes often appear to be pristine landscapes, they are underpinned by the history of actions against Indigenous people at his chosen locations, such as grave-robbing. As Keith Munro notes, Wybalenna on Flinders Island as depicted in … The Healing Garden for instance, is one of numerous historically-scarred sites; and for Maynard, Vansittart Island encapsulates the crude and culturally insensitive research and documentation by dominant societies that continues to this day.6
And to further highlight the point, Jim Everett comments: The essence of Ricky’s work is his unique ability to decipher how the western world looks on Aboriginal people as being victims of their own making. His passion for truth, and understanding of the ‘real story’ hidden behind the façade of white-fella imperialism and colonialism is what he is about.7 Indeed, the actions and attitudes of non-Indigenous towards Indigenous people form a common theme that is addressed in contemporary Indigenous art. In the works in this exhibition, Vernon Ah Kee looks at the position and treatment of Indigenous people within the dominant social paradigm of beach culture as a touchstone of the Australian way of life; Tony Albert highlights the extra focus that Indigenous people receive from police and governmental departments; Brook Andrew, in one of his best-known images, Sexy and dangerous (1996), considers ‘the gaze’ that is often discussed within the context of European interaction with ‘exotic others’ or the so-called ‘noble savage’; Michael Cook considers the inequality of
Indigenous people within wider Australian society; Brenda L. Croft and Fiona Foley each delve into the position of Indigenous women within society, as well as the treatment of their peoples in broader terms; and Michael Riley critiques the role that religion imposed upon Indigenous people and the larger social implications of traditional belief practices being usurped by Western belief systems.
‘Authenticity’ A social issue with dubious groundings is the questioning of ‘authenticity’ of paler-skinned Indigenous people, as championed in particular by one conservative commentator for whom this author does not want to give additional airing by naming, which is an erroneous and undermining stance that reinforces racial prejudice and suppression that has occurred for over 225 years. Most of the artists in this exhibition have mixed heritage, but the concept of a single drop of Indigenous blood legitimising a person’s claim to Indigeneity is crucial to the survival of language and culture. And acknowledging cultural ties that are older than the Captain Cook intervention must be nurtured and maintained.
What is it? As a medium, photography struggled for legitimacy within the canon of art throughout the twentieth century, becoming a particular focus of debate within art schools during the 1970s and '80s. While nowadays it is one of our most popular and dominant art forms, photography was once considered only within the realm of science. As photography became more streamlined, safer and cheaper, the ‘folly’ of artistic endeavours led to a new appreciation of the medium. Today, the digital era has shifted the ground and elevated photography to a position that was inconceivable in the 1990s.
Not that long ago, photography was also thought to be an exclusively Western activity. Indigenous art was supposedly defined by Western Desert dot painting, a practice that was considered only to illuminate stories of the past and not contemporary cultural issues. As opinions about the legitimacy of Indigenous art shifted, and the dynamism and contemporaneous nature of Indigenous art (in the same vein as non-Indigenous art) was recognised, it was generally acknowledged that all mediums stand equal in the contemporary art scene. The democratisation of photography led to its enthusiastic uptake across the world. For Indigenous artists, it holds the power to reclaim their own image. In doing so, they overturn the history of the camera as an ethnographer’s tool, whereby Indigenous people were objectified, classified – treated as flora and fauna – and recorded in response to a misguided Western expectation that they would eventually ‘die out’. Mervyn Bishop once posed the question, ‘Is there an Aboriginal photography?’8 ‘Yes’ is the resounding answer.
1. Indigenous peoples in Australia have a history of contact with foreigners prior to the arrival of Captain Cook. While the Yirrkala people in Arnhem Land had traded with the Macassans for centuries, the first known European contact dates back to the early 1600s, and there is disputed evidence of Chinese contact dating back to at least the late 1400s. French explorers had also visited the continent in the late 1700s, as evidenced by numerous French place names along the south-east coast, in areas of modern-day Victoria and New South Wales. 2. Robert Lacour-Gayet, A concise history of Australia, trans. James Grieve (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1976), 84. Boussole is the French word for ‘compass’, and astrolabe (‘star-taker’ is one English translation) is a term applied to various devices historically used in navigation and astronomy. The suburb of La Perouse in Sydney is named after the French explorer. 3. Richard Bell interviewed by Maura Riley in Richard Bell: Uz vs Them (New York: American Federation of Arts, 2011), 10. 4. Walter Benjamin, “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction,” in Illuminations trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), available at Marxists Internet archive, www.marxists.org/ reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm. 5. Tylor’s series has a certain correlation to the work of Anish Kapoor, as physicality and presence are intrinsic components of both their practices. Unfortunately, reproductions do not do Tylor’s work justice. In an Indigenous context, black velvet is also a loaded term, making reference to the sexualisation and exploitation of black women. 6. Keith Munro, “Portrait of a Distant Land,” in Keith Munro et al., Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land (Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007), 17. 7. Jim Everett, “Ricky Maynard: The man,” in Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land, 33. 8. Mervyn Bishop titled a 1989 self portrait with this question. The image, a close up of his face with him holding a tiny toy camera in front of his eye as though it was being used, was a key image for Kelly Gellatly’s exhibition Re-take: Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander photography at the National Gallery of Australia in 2000.
‘If you scratch an Aussie, racism is always just under the surface.’1 This photograph directly relates to Richard Bell’s video work of the same name, in which he casts himself as a black Sigmund Freud and psychoanalyses a group of attractive, young, Aryan-style white Australians, each wearing skimpy gold lamé swimwear. His ‘clients’ each make the type of racist comments that have been repeatedly directed at Indigenous people over decades, often to justify racial discrimination. 1. Maura Riley, Richard Bell: Uz vs Them (New York: American Federation of Arts, 2011), 66.
Richard Bell Scratch an Aussie #1 2008 digital print on paper Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.
Leah King-Smith came to prominence over two decades ago with her outstanding series ‘Patterns of connection’ (1991), for which she overlaid archival photographs of Indigenous peoples from the State Library of Victoria with her own contemporary images. Academically and philosophically, she has continued this approach, delving deeper into the ‘liminal interstices’ – the intermediate space – between visual and conceptual approaches to contemporary art-making. The ‘Powerhouse’ series is the result of King-Smith being granted access to the Powerhouse building in the inner-city suburb of New Farm in Brisbane prior to its reincarnation from a derelict building to a major arts venue. King-Smith has continued to use a multi-layering approach in her work, highlighting the layered reality of contemporary life.
Leah King-Smith Vein and veil 2000 (from the series ‘Powerhouse’) pigment ink on archival paper Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.
Tracey Moffatt Something More... #5 1989 Cibachrome Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. right: Something More... #8 1989 Cibachrome Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
‘Tracey Moffatt’s Something More… examines racial and sexual stereotypes in a cinematic storyboard format where Anglo-Aboriginal-Chinese heritage is blurred. Moffatt plays the central character who leaves the outback searching for something more in the city which she never reaches. However, the story is also punctuated with more radical associations that refer to the then popular trend for sadomasochism: the S and M of the title are bolded and the woman with the motorbike wields a whip with Moffatt’s character in the background.’ Anne Marsh, Look: Contemporary Australian photography since 1980 (Melbourne: Macmillan Art Publishing, 2010), 67.
Song drifts on wind. I catch phrases. Concentrate on trickling sand. Rapt in heartland. Large white smiles over rich earth. Bogged policy. Labour out of mud. Yell at bedrock. Spittle. Man caressed hand. ‘Poor wretch. This way to equality.’ Ab-original. ‘Which way?’ Song on wind trickling sand rapt in heartland white smiles rich earth bogged policy man labours out of mud yells at bedrock spittle caress the hand of Ab-original ‘Poor wretch, this way to equality.’ ‘Which way?’
Song trickling heartland white earth policy mud, bedrock, spittle equality Ab-original— which way?
Mervyn Bishop Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory 1975 C-type photograph © Mervyn Bishop/Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
‘… Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory 1975 symbolises the Land Rights movement and political bi-cultural relations that have informed and transformed a maturing nation. For this image, Bishop famously requested the subjects to restage the symbolic act of pouring sand outside against the brilliant desert sky, the radiance of which reflects the significance of the day’s events.’1 While this act of 16 August 1975 was momentous, four decades later, there remains a long road to reconciliation and the redressing of numerous social inequalities that separate Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. 1. Jonathan Jones, Half light: Portraits from Black Australia (Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2008), 11.
A collector’s perspective
AUSTRALIAN CONTEMPORARY ART is diverse and exciting, and Indigenous photographers, who have been at the forefront of photographic practice in this country since the 1980s, play a significant role in the medium’s appeal to contemporary art collectors, a group that I am privileged to be part of. I have a long-held interest in photography by Australian artists, alongside other contemporary art, and in many ways it was a natural fit. Tracey Moffatt, for example, is rightly lauded among the international avant-garde, and it would be hard for me as a collector to ignore her body of work. With the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art currently staging a Cindy Sherman retrospective, I am reminded again of the power of Moffatt’s self-focus for launching enquiries about our cultural assumptions and of the lasting appeal and potency of her imagery’s cinematic drama. Christian Bumbarra Thompson also operates within this paradigm. His self portraits are personal, autobiographical statements about identity and cultural alienation, but they are also critiques about Indigenous individuality being subsumed and suppressed by colonial power structures. And it is almost impossible to turn away from his gaze. As in Thompson’s work, defiance comes through strongly in the work of Tony Albert and Brook Andrew. Their images of young Aboriginal men are incredibly powerful statements of resilience, virility and pride in the context of racial stereotyping and racial profiling.
Moffatt, Michael Riley, Destiny Deacon and their peers in Over the fence: Contemporary Indigenous photography from the Corrigan Collection represent a new generation of art makers – urban-based Indigenous artists who have found the medium of photography to be the perfect vehicle for storytelling. For me, this is a particularly compelling aspect of Indigenous photography. The works in Over the fence tell a number of important stories about Australian life and culture and about the reclamation of Indigenous presence. For example, Riley encapsulated certain conditions, influences and historical trajectories forced upon Indigenous peoples in his images of intense aesthetic ethereal beauty. The tension in these images between beauty and pathos is made all the more remarkable for their technical prowess. More recently, Fiona Foley has focussed on elevating a similar anxiety in her works about the impact of the opiate trade in Queensland on Aboriginal peoples. James Tylor, whom we would still class as an emerging artist, also operates in this vein, although on a more intimate scale. Some of his images utilise nineteenth-century technical processes, which foregrounds the period of colonisation. Tylor rips, burns and shoots through his images, enacting the erasure of Indigenous people and leaving physical scars. In earlier work, Leah King-Smith created powerful haunting images reinstating Indigenous presence. Using anthropology archives and landscape imagery in montage, she reunited peoples dispersed and dislocated through colonial actions with their traditional country. Darren Siwes’s ghostly images of urban places function on this plane too, as do Ricky Maynard’s solemn images of Tasmanian peoples separated from country and Nici Cumpston’s beautiful and slightly haunting empty-but-not-empty landscapes. Although vastly different in approach, Michael Cook’s superbly finished dreamlike images also fit into this stream of practice. His artworks overturn assumptions about erasure and make Indigenous people the stars of the story. They create powerful statements about ‘what if’ alternative histories: what would our country be like if Cook was black, or if we had
an Aboriginal Prime Minister? In this context, Mervyn Bishop’s iconic image of Whitlam symbolically pouring soil into the hands of Vincent Lingiari is particularly poignant. Many of the works in my collection by Indigenous artists are naturally sombre in theme, but also wryly amusing. This is a strong feature of contemporary Indigenous art-making in general, and this aspect of the practice has encouraged broad appeal. Humour helps people connect with an artwork’s message, while concurrently working to disarm them, especially when the image or message might be confrontational. The adoption and broad use of the word ‘deadly’ exemplifies this thinking. Of the artists featured in my collection, Deacon is particularly brilliant at using humour in her photographs; while thick with irony and revealing a very real laconic Australianness, they simultaneously expose the sour undertones of some aspects of Australian culture. This can also be seen in Vernon Ah Kee’s image of the boys from the Yidinyji Tribe with their surfboards all painted up. Bindi Cole’s Koorimite Kid (2008) also operates on this level, as does a lot of Tony Albert’s work, especially his assemblages of found items of kitsch ‘Aboriginalia’. And, of course, humour is the key to the success of Richard Bell’s satirical over-the-top and brash activism. It has been a thrill to support so many talented artists in a field with such depth, and that is now receiving serious critical appraisal from around the world as well as locally. I can’t wait to see who will pop up next! On a personal note, I feel tremendously lucky to have met all of the artists featured in my collection, and to be able to catch up with some of them, Tracey and Tony in particular, on a regular basis.
‘As Brook Andrew’s Proselytiser glows amid the black and white city streets, his authority appears both timeless and out of our time. With his suit, Akubra hat and black book, the proselytiser symbolises the lack of Aboriginal public figures and the dominance of those few who are continuously asked to speak on behalf of their people.’1 A proselytiser is a person who attempts to convert other people’s beliefs, often within a religious context. Is this someone trying to attract the wider Australian community to Indigenous concerns, albeit in nocturnal, empty urban streets? Road signs in the background (‘STOP’, ONE WAY’ and ‘NO ENTRY’) add to the photograph’s ambiguity. 1. Anne Marsh, Look: Contemporary Australian photography since 1980 (Melbourne: MacMillan Art Publishing, 2010), 38.
Brook Andrew Proselytiser 2000 Cibachrome Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.
List of works Measurements are in centimetres, height x width, rounded to the nearest half-centimetre. Measurements refer to image sizes.
Vernon Ah Kee
Born 1967 Innisfail, Queensland. Kuku Yalanji, Waanyi, Yidinyji and Guugu Yimithirr peoples. Lives and works Brisbane, Queensland. wegrewhere #2 2009 digital print on Fujiflex paper, ed. of 6 76.0 x 115.0 cm wegrewhere #3 2009 digital print on Fujiflex paper, ed. of 6 76.0 x 115.0 cm
Born 1981 Townsville, Queensland. Girramay people. Lives and works Sydney, New South Wales. Brother (Our past) 2013 pigment print on paper, ed. of 3 150.0 x 100.0 cm Brother (Our present) 2013 pigment print on paper, ed. of 3 150.0 x 100.0 cm Brother (Our future) 2013 pigment print on paper, ed. of 3 150.0 x 100.0 cm
Born 1970 Sydney, New South Wales. Wiradjuri people. Lives and works Melbourne, Victoria. Sexy and dangerous 1996 digital C-type photograph, ed. 5/20 65.0 x 43.0 cm Proselytiser 2000 Cibachrome, ed. of 10 123.0 x 123.0 cm
Born 1953 Charleville, Queensland. Kooma, Kamilaroi, Jiman and Goreng Goreng peoples. Lives and works Brisbane, Queensland. Scratch an Aussie #1 2008 digital print on paper 72.5 x 109.0 cm
Born 1945 Brewarrina, New South Wales. Murri people. Lives and works Sydney, New South Wales. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional landowner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory 1975 1975 C-type photograph 49.0 x 39.0 cm
Bindi Cole Chocka
Born 1975 Melbourne, Victoria. Wathaurung people. Lives and works Melton, Victoria. Koorimite Kid 2008 digital print on cotton rag 150.0 x 110.0 cm
Born 1968 Brisbane, Queensland. Bidjara people. Lives and works Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Majority Rule (Memorial) 2014 inkjet print on paper, ed. of 3 140.0 x 200.0 cm
Brenda L. Croft
Born 1964 Perth, Western Australia. Gurindji, Malngin, Mudpurra and Bilinara peoples. Lives and works Sydney, New South Wales. Irrisistable/Irresistible 2000 (from the series ‘Fever’) Fuji Crystal Archive print on Lexan, ed. of 15 75.0 x 52.0 cm
Born 1963 Adelaide, South Australia. Barkindji and Paakintji peoples. Lives and works Adelaide, South Australia. Nookanta Rushes, Lake Bonney 2008 (from the series ‘Attesting’) inkjet print on canvas, hand coloured with watercolours and pencils 74.0 x 203.0 cm
Born 1957 Maryborough, Queensland. Ku’a Ku’a and Erub/Mer peoples. Lives and works Melbourne, Victoria. Koori Gothic: Waiting for Brad 1995 three bubblejet prints from Polaroid original, ed. 2/3 70.0 x 57.0 cm, 50.0 x 41.0 cm and 35.5 x 28.5 cm Over the Fence 2000 (from the series ‘Sad & Bad’) Lambda print from Polaroid original, ed. 13/15 80.0 x 100.0 cm
Wild Times Call 2 2001 C-type photograph, ed. 4/10 83.5 x 102.0 cm
Untitled 1992, printed 2004 (from the series ‘Sacrifice’) fifteen chromogenic pigment prints, ed. 1/20 26.0 x 17.0 cm or 17.0 x 26.0 cm each
Born 1964 Maryborough, Queensland. Badtjala people. Lives and works Hervey Bay, Queensland.
Wild Times Call 3 2001 C-type photograph, ed. 4/10 83.5 x 102.0 cm Wild Times Call 4 2001 C-type photograph, ed. 4/10 83.5 x 102.0 cm
Born 1957 Gympie, Queensland. Lives and works Brisbane, Queensland. Vein and veil 2000 (from the series ‘Powerhouse’) pigment ink on archival paper, ed. of 10 84.5 x 52.5 cm
Born 1953 Launceston, Tasmania. Big River and Ben Lomond peoples. Lives and works Flinders Island, Tasmania.
Born 1960 Dubbo, New South Wales. Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi peoples. Died 2004 Sydney, New South Wales.
Born 1968 Adelaide, South Australia. Ngalkban people. Lives and works Adelaide, South Australia. Pre Sense 2003 Cibachrome, ed. of 8 97.0 x 118.0 cm Just is for the Lucky Few 2003 Cibachrome, ed. of 8 97.0 x 118.0 cm
Christian Bumbarra Thompson
Born 1978 Gawler, South Australia. Bidjara and Kunja peoples. Lives and works Oxford, United Kingdom. Untitled (Yellow Kangaroo Paw) 2007 (from the series ‘Australian Graffiti’) C-type photograph, ed. of 10 100.0 x 100.0 cm
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania 2005 (from the series ‘Portrait of a Distant Land’) silver gelatin photograph, ed. of 10 34.0 x 53.0 cm
Invaded dreams 2012 (from the series ‘We bury our own’) C-type photograph, ed. of 10 100.0 x 100.0 cm
Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania 2005 (from the series ‘Portrait of a Distant Land’) silver gelatin photograph, ed. of 10 34.0 x 53.0 cm
Born Brisbane, Queensland 1960. Lived and worked Sydney, New South Wales 1983–1997; New York, USA 1997–2010; New York, USA, Noosa, Queensland and Sydney, New South Wales since 2011. Something More... #1 1989 Cibachrome, ed. of 30 97.0 x 122.0 cm Something More... #5 1989 Cibachrome, ed. of 30 97.0 x 128.0 cm Something More... #8 1989 Cibachrome, ed. of 30 96.0 x 123.0 cm
Born 1986 Mildura, Victoria. Kaurna and Maori peoples. Lives and works Adelaide, South Australia. (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #1 2013 inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void, ed. of 5 40.0 x 40.0 cm (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #3 2013 inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void, ed. of 5 40.0 x 40.0 cm (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #4 2013 inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void, ed. of 5 40.0 x 40.0 cm (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #14 2013 inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void, ed. of 5 40.0 x 40.0 cm
Contributors GRAHAM AKHURST is an Aboriginal writer and academic from the Kokomini of Northern Queensland. He has been published in Mascara Literary Review, Westerly, and Connect the Dots Journal for creative non-fiction, and the Australian Book Review, Cordite, Verity La and Off the Coast (Maine America) for poetry. He contributed to the Brisbane Poetry Map, and was poet of the week for the Australian Book Review in early April 2016. Graham has been a featured reader at the Queensland Poetry Festival and Clancestry. He received an Australia Council Grant to complete his debut novel Borderland. Graham was a participant on the 2015 Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Tour. He received a Bachelor of Creative Arts with first class honours in 2015 and is currently enrolled in an MPhil in Creative Writing at The University of Queensland, where he also lectures and tutors through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit. GORDON CRAIG is Project Manager at the UQ Art Museum and possesses a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Photography) from Griffith University, a Bachelor of Arts (Art History) from The University of Queensland, and a Master of Arts (Research) from Queensland University of Technology. Previous curatorial projects include Out of the shadows: The mezzotints of Graeme Peebles (2004), Somewhere in the city: Noel McKenna (2005), The state we’re in: Recent Queensland photography (2010), Beijing Hao! Six Chinese photomedia artists (2012) and No place (2014). He has written numerous catalogue essays and journal articles and, when time permits, he continues his own art practice in photography and printmaking. DR RYAN PRESLEY was born in 1987 in Alice Springs. His father’s family is Marri Ngarr from the Moyle River region in the Northern Territory. He currently lives and works in Brisbane. His art practice is a reflection of his locale, which he audits and critiques. In doing so, Presley mounts a larger enquiry that interrogates how power is articulated. Presley’s work has been acquired by The University of Queensland, Murdoch University, Griffith Artworks and the Museum of Brisbane. In 2015 his essay “Debt” was published in Courting Blakness: Recalibrating knowledge in the sandstone university (University of Queensland Press). In 2016 his artwork has been included in the 33rd Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; Frontier Imaginaries: No Longer at Ease, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; and the TarraWarra Biennial 2016: Endless Circulation, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria. He has recently completed a PhD at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University.
UQ Art Museum acknowledges those individuals and institutions who have helped make this exhibition and publication possible. We express thanks to Pat and Barbara Corrigan; the artists and their representatives; contributing authors Ryan Presley and Graham Akhurst; Tania Creighton and Janet Ollevou at University of Technology Sydney; Charlotte Day, Kirrily Hammond and Francis Parker at Monash University Museum of Art; John Walsh and Bond University; past and present students Emily Poore and Michaela Bear; and Dr Sally Butler, School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland.
Curator: Gordon Craig Catalogue design: Caro Toledo Editors: Evie Franzidis and Michele Helmrich Copyright: Sebastian Moody Printed by: Cornerstone Press, Brisbane THE UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND ART MUSEUM PERSONNEL: Dr Campbell Gray, Director Holly Arden, Senior Education Manager Nick Ashby, Museum Preparator Isabella Baker, Curatorial Assistant Stephanie Baldwin, Advancement Manager Gordon Craig, Project Manager Christian Flynn, Registration Technician Michele Helmrich, Associate Director (Curatorial) Kath Kerswell, Senior Registrar Samantha Littley, Curator Matthew Malone, Registration Officer Sebastian Moody, Digital Communications Officer Melanie Moore, Executive Assistant/Finance and Administration Officer Emily Poore, Curatorial Assistant Beth Porter, Finance and Administration Coordinator Mariko Post, Visitor Services Officer Alice-Anne Psaltis, Public Programs Officer Brent Wilson, Production Manager Install team: Ian Berry, Yannick Blattner, Michael Littler, Kate Oâ€™Connor, Caro Toledo THE UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND ART MUSEUM BOARD: Louise Doyle, Assistant Director-General, Access and Communication, National Archives Professor Tim Dunne, Executive Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Dr Campbell Gray, Director, UQ Art Museum (ex officio) Professor Jason Jacobs, Head, School of Communication and Arts Patricia Danver, Pro-Vice-Chancellor â€“ Advancement (Acting) Professor Alan Rix, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Chairperson) Winthrop Professor Ted Snell, Director, Cultural Precinct, University of Western Australia Dr Jane Wilson, Deputy Chancellor UQ Art Museum The James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre The University of Queensland St Lucia Queensland 4072 Australia www.artmuseum.uq.edu.au
over: Tony Albert Brother (Our past) (detail) 2013 pigment print on paper Reproduced courtesy of the artist and sullivan+strumpf.
front cover: Destiny Deacon Over the Fence 2000 (from the series â€˜Sad & Badâ€™) Lambda print from Polaroid original Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. back cover: Bindi Cole Chocka Koorimite Kid 2008 digital print on cotton rag Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Nellie Castan Projects, Melbourne.
Published on Aug 9, 2016
Over the fence features the work of 18 Indigenous artists engaged in the field of photography drawn from the private collection of art patro...