Posts Tagged ‘aboriginal


Just Drawn @ Linden, St Kilda

Opening Night - Just Drawn - Linden GalleryFriday, 6 August 2010

A new exhibition opened tonight at Linden Gallery in St Kilda. Titled Just Drawn, it features works on paper by proppaNOW collective, which comprises of high-profile, predominantly Queensland-based, Australian urban indigenous artists.

The gallery has been transformed by this impressive selection of predominantly black and white works. Vernon Ah Kee is exhibiting a suite of charcoals, Unwritten – primeval forms, haunting shadows of human visages, all executed in straight cross-hatched lines, a veritable antithesis to his better known, highly-finished, hyper-realist portrait drawings.

Gordon Hookey’s Animals, also drawn in charcoal, reveal the artist’s quick and observant eye capable of capturing the unique kinetic energy of a veritable menagerie of birds and mammals.

Vernon Ah Kee @ LindenLaurie Nielsen focused his suite of Scar drawings on fragments of barbed wire – a recurrent motif in urban indigenous art – cold and menacing when executed in black charcoal, but almost fetishist when drawn in warm glowing reds.

Tony Albert’s One by One 1-5 is a creative, thought-provoking, and moving substitute portrait of Eddie Albert (the artist’s grand-father?), a WWII veteran; while Jennifer Herd’s suite of works, On Dying, expresses grief and mourning through the schematised interpretation of traditional decorative elements and tribal designs.

Bianca Beetson @ LindenBianca Beetson @ LindenGiven my passion for portraiture, drawings by Bianca Beetson are among my favourite works in the exhibition. In it’s been a bad day – please don’t take my picture – this versatile artist innovatively utilises text to outline facial features of her (self)portraits, capturing the likeness and at the same time providing the viewer with the narrative, giving the term “a speaking likeness” an entirely new dimension.

Richard Bell Wall Mural @ LindenCollaborative Drawing Project @ Just Drawn, LindenThe entire exhibition is united and summed up by a spectacular collaborative wall drawing by Richard Bell and other artists in the exhibition, which snakes around the perimeter of one of the galleries and along the hallway’s wall, almost evoking the late Mike Brown’s Fitzroy murals, and reflecting on collaborative nature and community spirit of traditional indigenous art.

The proppaNOW collective focuses on the art of drawing, and the artists invited exhibition visitors on the opening night to engage in a collaborative drawing exercise on a large continuous sheet of paper, with the winner of the best drawing receiving a work on paper by Gordon Hookey.

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


Joyce Evans @ Obscura Gallery

Joyce Evans - Jewish Cemetry, Praha, 1989Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Dear Diary,

Joyce Evans says that obtaining a successful photographic image is akin to receiving “a gift”. This metaphor becomes apparent as one trawls through hundreds of photographic images – whether in the dark room, or on the computer screen – as it only takes that special angle of sunlight, sudden turn of the head, or an unexpected hand gesture to turn a good photograph into a memorable image of transcendent quality.

It is also that gut feeling of a “gift” about to be bestowed that prompted Joyce Evans on her trip to Prague in 1988 to catch a glimpse of the Jewish Cemetery as it basked in the twilight of the autumn sunset, imbuing its ancient stones with the air of mystery and imparting intricate shadows on its winding pathways. Yet when she returned to the same site in 2007, that special, indescribable air of mystery was gone, absorbed by the commercialism of the tourism industry and sterilised by the order of ropes, signs, and guided tour groups.

Joyce Evans - Rain Dreaming, Yuendumu, 2005

Joyce Evans discussed the images taken at the Prague Cemetery in a detailed statement in the exhibition, so it is not necessary to repeat her points here. It would suffice to say, however, that these photographs served as an impetus behind the present exhibition, which allowed the photographer to expand her focus to a wider selection of works encompassing her photographic career from the 1980s to the present day.

Surveying Evans’s images of the last thirty years bears witness that her “gifts” were bountiful. She was able to turn a Widelux snap of children climbing de Kooning’s sculpture in The Ascension into a Baroque image of Rubensian magnitude. Under her lens, the crowd gathered on the peer in Behold becomes reminiscent of the latter-day Magi, witnessing the birth of new millennium. She has been able to capture the imposing majesty of the Uluru, the purple glow of Menindee Lake, the eerie stillness of Jugiong, and the drowned silence of the Nathan River. She has been granted a vision. By capturing it through the medium of photography, she shares these gifts with us.

Joyce Evans - Jugiong, 1994The concept of a photographic image as a gift evokes a notion of a spiritual inspiration as a guiding force behind Evans’s images. The spiritual is the binding thread that unites the works in this exhibition (and in Evans’s oeuvre as a whole). The photographer’s lens seeks out the omnipresent image of the Cross (perhaps in a subconscious homage to the Judeo-Christian tradition of the Western civilisation). It can be seen in the innumerable telegraph poles that populate Evans’s images (their shadows in Melbourne Cross call to mind William Holman Hunt’s The Shadow of Death of 1871); it is felt in the geometric alignments of the roads and horizons in her landscape photographs, such as Annie’s Lane; it can be perceived in the silhouette of the crossbar of a window frame, which holds a silent guard over Prague’s historic cemetery.

Joyce Evans - Jewish Cemetry, Praha, 1989Herself a product of a culturally-diverse heritage, and widely travelled, Evans is keenly attuned to the spiritual beliefs of other cultures. Evans’s New Guinea Christ series illustrates her continuous fascination with how Christianity is adopted and reinterpreted in South East Asia, and how it is often coloured by a certain primeval, pagan spirituality. In Thailand, she was moved by the silent beauty of a golden Buddha. While documenting the lives of remote indigenous communities, her whole being had been permeated with the intense spirituality that connects aboriginal people to the land. It is this unfathomable quality that unites the images as seemingly disparate as desert rock formations in the outback Australia and weathered, time-ravaged tombstones in the centre of Prague.

Joyce Evans - Tallaringa Springs Rainbow, 1995However, the spiritual in Evans’s photography is not limited to the literal interpretations or visual representations. It is also contained within the unbridled centrifugal energy of the galloping horses in Lippizaner Movement, the majestic expanses of century-old oak and eucalyptus trees, and in the unstoppable forces of nature as captured in the threatening rain clouds of her Mt Martha series.

Imaging the Spiritual 1980-2010 thus sums up the guiding forces and inspirational principles behind the photography of Joyce Evans, which continue to inform her indefatigable, ever-searching, and inquiring eye, seeking out the beauty, synergy, and the spiritual in the everyday.

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


GAYME @ the Counihan Gallery

Gary LeeThursday, 21 January 2010

Dear Diary,

I have been blown away by a Midsumma exhibition… which is a statement in itself. Gayme at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick, is perhaps one of the most significant curated Midsumma shows I have seen in a long time in terms of the daring, innovative curatorial content and the quality of artworks on display. The exhibition’s creators, Edwina Bartlem and Ben McKeown, assembled together an impressive display of gay indigenous artists, a feat which probably would have been unthinkable even a few years ago [if my memory serves me correctly, the Midsumma festival did a modest attempt to focus on the gay indigenous community in the early noughties]. The combination of queer aesthetics informed by indigenous / urban indigenous rhetoric imbue the works in the exhibition with the fresh, surprising, and frequently innovative and unexpected interpretation and approach.

Clinton Nain

The exhibition opens with the three large canvasses by Clinton Nain, Treaty, Right, and Wrong (all 2009), featuring the eponymous titles smeared and repeated ad infinitum in white across the dark-brown and black bitumen background. Nain continues the exploration of his aesthetic representation on the “whiting-out” of Australian indigenous culture, which began so poignantly and sometimes violently in his oeuvre of the late 1990s with his bleach-splattered denim works. The strength of the messages is self-evident. At the same time, the flowing cursive of the writing as well as the breaks in the surface tension of the pigment create an overall elegant abstracted effect, at times reminiscent of Leonard Brown’s textured paintings.

Troy-Anthony BaylisHand-knitted pink tubes, suspended from the ceiling, are the pivot of Troy-Anthony Baylis’s exhibit. After a short while the penny drops that this is a queer, gendered take on the traditional phallic ceremonial poles, which are usually carved by men, as well as a reference to woven baskets, which are usually created by indigenous craftswomen. In a suite of works titled Making Camp, rife with double entendre, Baylis’s pink poles are superimposed on colonial landscapes by H.J. Johnstone (whose works I’ve mentioned in the MPRG exhibition), Haughton Forrest, and others, who portrayed Australia as terra nullius. Baylis attempts to right their visions, which denied the existence of indigenous inhabitants in Australia (let alone the gay element of these communities), by populating their landscapes with traditional phallic (pink) poles to denote an indigenous camp site, where a ritual dance is performed by a spirit apparition in drag (the last element seemed a bit superfluous to me, as the artist has already delivered a very strong message with the semantically layered pink poles). In a twist on this theme, Baylis transfers his knitted pink tubes to Berlin’s Schlossgarten, where, in the absence of the least modicum of European culture, the artist’s aboriginal-inspired poles are the only markers of human civilisation.

Dianne JonesThe second room of the exhibition displays photographs by Dianne Jones and Gary Lee, both of whom are breaking traditional gendered stereotypes of indigenous men and women. In her near-life-size photographs, Dianne Jones seemingly effortlessly re-imagines herself as an American preacher, Elvis, Audrey, or the Fonz. She boldly explores her androgyneity to convincingly transform herself into characters of either gender without the recourse to the Sherman-style facial prosthetics. While the photographs are good quality works of art in their own right (in terms of the composition and technical attributes), this is perhaps the first time an attention has been focused on the America-centric, Hollywood influence of Anglo, Italian, and Hispanic stereotypes on the indigenous (or urban indigenous) culture. Gary Lee continues Jones’s breaking with the stereotypes in his sexualised and homo-eroticised photographs of indigenous and pan-Asian youths. If Brooke Andrew has explored in his Sexy and Dangerous series the objectification of the indigenous male within the context of anthropological photography, this is perhaps the first time that an Aboriginal male has been openly viewed as a contemporary pin-up, let alone a gay pin-up model.

r e a The last room of the exhibition is taken by the works of r e a. It consists of an HD video showing an Aboriginal woman in a heavy Victorian mourning gown, complete with a tight corset and full crinoline skirt, evoking a Victorian gothic novel. She is dashing about in a forest with charred trees, like a later-day Bertha Rochester who had escaped her captivity. Her hair is closely cropped, and at times she appears almost masculine in her looks. She is perhaps the embodiment not only of an Aboriginal woman, but of the Aboriginal race. She is not looking to escape from the forest, but stops by the charred tree trunks communing with them, mourning a universal rather than a personal loss. The looped video is only 6.5 or so minutes short. It keeps the viewer’s attention and maintains the sense of mystery. The video is accompanied by photographic stills, which are not chosen at random. Each of the nine (I think) photographs on view is aesthetically and compositionally complete. The tonal values are underpinned by the charred blacks, muted greens, and ochres. The geometry of vertical tree trunks provides a strong contrast to the sinuous silhouette of the woman’s period dress.

Ben McKeownThe exhibition’s co-curator, Ben McKeown, is represented by three works in the exhibition. They are perhaps best described as the Roar Group’s take on indigenous art, where simplified, primitivist shapes of urban structures are carried out in predominantly traditional indigenous colours. McKeown creates the visual language of an urban indigenous artist, and re-images the space, simplified objets within it, and the artist’s journey across it, not unlike an indigenous artist’s temporal conceptualisation of space and time in Dreamtime paintings. He traces the journeys across the grid of city streets, and even provides a cheeky take on Clifford Possum by re-imaging the two fallen warriors as two masturbating youths. Unfortunately, McKeown’s three paintings come from different years and represent a variety of aesthetic and semantic directions. As such, they lack the curatorial unity of other exhibits, and their meaning as a group is less sharply defined.

Exhibitions like Gayme and Finding Space are the evidence of the progress within the queer art movement, and the natural evolution of the avant-garde within its context. The works are no longer necessarily activist and / or self-referential, but respond to more universal issues of contemporary Australian and international art, including race, environment, and over-saturation of American pop culture.

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

August 2020


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 104 other followers