Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell’s Theorem), 2003. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 28.06.12

Dates: 30.06.12
Location: Playhouse, Sydney Opera House

This weekend in Sydney, two free discussions about Aboriginal art are likely to set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. Both are at the Opera House on Saturday and involve leading Blak players in the art game. Session One, particularly, is dominated by proppaNow artists from Brisbane who have dissociated themselves from the world of the remote Indigenous artists that this site cares much for.

Aboriginal Art: it’s a white thing
Richard Bell, Vernon Ah Kee, Ian Mclean, Rex Butler 
1.30 – 3pm, SOH Playhouse

Richard Bell and Vernon Ah Kee are two artists whose work questions everything we know about ‘Aboriginal Art’ and brings art and politics crashing together. Blak artists in White Australia, their work in a variety of media is confrontational and full of biting humour. Fiery and uncompromising, they will be joined in this conversation about art, politics and racism by two leading academics who have written extensively about Aboriginal art, Ian McLean and Rex Butler.

Vernon Ah Kee was born in North Queensland and is of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidindji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples. His art includes conceptual text pieces, videos, photographs and drawings and forms a critique of Australian popular culture, specifically the Black/White dichotomy from an Aboriginal perspective. His work often incorporates text and is noted for its biting black humour.

Richard Bell is an Australian artist and political activist. His painting Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell's Theorem) won the 2003 Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award. Bells’ work divides the room on both political and aesthetic grounds.

Rex Butler is an art critic, author and lecturer, who has reviewed (among other things) Bell’s work. Butler is currently working on a history of ‘Australian’ art and a critical biography of the great New Zealand artist Colin McCahon.

Ian McLean is one of Australia’s leading art historians and is a Research Professor of Art History at the University of Wollongong. He is the author of books including White Aborigines and edited the collection How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art a documentary history 1980–2006.

The second session involves the only Aboriginal art curator who has direct experience of remote art – for Djon Mundine worked for several years at Ramingining Art centre in Arhemland.

Write the truth, or shut up
Djon Mundine OAM in conversation with Daniel Browning
3.30 – 4.30pm, SOH Playhouse

Arthur Koestler is famously supposed to have written “One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up”, and Djon Mundine takes this approach to a discussion of Aboriginal art. If Aboriginal art is art made by Aboriginals we have to ask difficult questions like who are Aboriginals and what is the relevance of their art to Aboriginal societies? What makes good Aboriginal art and what is bad Aboriginal art? Is Aboriginal art still a social act?

A leading curator, activist, writer and occasional artists Djon Mundine is member of the Bandjalung people of northern New South Wales. He is renowned as the concept curator for the 1988 ‘Aboriginal Memorial’ installation permanently exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia. Djon was awarded an OAM in 1993. He is a freelance curator with, currently, three shows on around Australia and a major project in Mosman involving 16 NSW artists responding to the role of Bungaree in Sydney's history.

Daniel Browning is a descendant of the Bundjalung and the Kullilli people. He first joined ABC Radio National’s Awaye! team on a short-term basis in 1997 and has produced and presented Awaye! since 2005.

Later on Saturday, Melbourne's Indigenous Ilbijerri Theatre Company brings some Victorian Aboriginal history to Sydney in the play, Coranderrk, which tackles the sad history of the Aboriginal group lead by elder and artist William Barak, dispossessed of land they'd been allocated and successfully farmed in the Yarra Valley.


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