"BOMB" Exhibition Wages War on Australia's Identity Through Art

"BOMB" Exhibition Wages War on Australia's Identity Through Art

Currently on show at the Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht (AAMU) is a provocative exhibition by Australian artists Blak Douglas (Adam Hill) and Adam Geczy that challenges the validity and truthfulness of a number of political and socio-cultural precepts that have given shape to Australia’s national identity.

Launched in conjunction with the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht, “BOMB” takes aim at the very foundations of Australian society and culture through a series of subversive investigations into the concepts of race and place. The works in the show are in fact so critical of Australian history and identity that one wonders what the reaction would be to the exhibition being shown in Australia.

According to “BOMB” curator, Georges Petitjean, “Blak Douglas and Adam Geczy’s activist spectacle is caustic, radical, and uncompromising. It is symbolic, and therefore diplomatic act of war which is in keeping with the anniversary celebrations of the Treaty of Utrecht. Both these celebrations and the exhibition remind us that peace is a relative concept. Through creating awareness, art can assume a role in finding a path to negotiations and a more involved form of reconciliation. A real treaty with the Aboriginal population of Australia is still absent.”

The centrepiece of the exhibition, a painted BMW “bomb,” explores the exploitation of the rich culture of Australia’s indigenous people while the inverted colours and mirrored image of “Australian flag: mirrored and in reverse colour” – an image that is symbolically burnt is symbolically burnt by a painted flame – makes a mockery of what the Australian government describes as “Australia’s foremost national symbol.”

At the crux of the exhibition is a poignant and relevant yet startlingly confronting question that cannot be ignored. That question is whether the people of Australia can continue to justify and accept Australia’s current national identity in light of the plight faced by the nation’s indigenous people. According to Geczy, “Australia cannot think it is truly committed to reconciliation while it still retains Australia Day of the flag and the National Anthem, and since these will never be changed then the indigenous people will always be under the thumb.”

To find out more about the “BOMB” exhibition, BLOUIN ARTINFO got in touch with Adam Geczy and asked him a few questions.

The BMW painted “bomb” appears to investigate both positive and negative aspects of the market for Australian indigenous art. What does the car suggest about the current status of indigenous art both in Australia and internationally?

The centerpiece of the show is what we call the Dorian Grey face of the Michael Nelson Tjakamarra BMW painted for their series of BMWs by artists. We are not at all criticizing the artist, but we see it as a very good example of the decontextualisation of Aboriginal art. Here we have an artist from the Western Desert painting a vehicle that most indigenous people would drive, let alone afford. In the broader sense, it is also one of the reasons for mining, to which indigenous people have been given limited say and limited rights.

BOMB was developed in connection with the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht, how did you connect this event with the history of Indigenous Australia?

Most of the other exhibitions in conjunction with the treaty were about peace, but ours was about the impossibility of peace on our shores while indigenous Australians still get treated with contempt. The most blatant symbolic blight is that our National Day is the day our indigenous people were colonized. And “reconciliation” is also a misnomer since it implies people coming together as equals and shaking hands. This is not plausible given the circumstances as they have been and as they are now. Most people don't even know that we had apartheid before 1967.

Considering the provocative nature of the theme of the exhibition, how have European visitors reacted to the concept?

Extremely well. There are many themes that they can relate to quite closely, especially the xenophobia of the most conservative politicians who mount scare campaigns about the marauding migrants.

Where did the idea for the performance featuring Al Jolson-like figures originate?

The curator said he wanted to keep the museum open during its installation and that we ought to stage some performances. This is performance student from the university. She is in double drag, if you like, which is also a metaphor for Aboriginal art on canvas on a white wall. To anyone who sits down she asks them one question: “Tell me everything you know about Aboriginal art and culture.” In this performance (there were two) no-one spoke to her, to which my colleague remarked, “How does it feel to have no one speak to you.” Great stuff.

There have been many exhibitions over the years that deal with the issues faced by Indigenous Australians, what does BOMB contribute to the ongoing narrative?

No exhibition is as focused and as comprehensive as this one. It is also the most sustained collaboration between a white and black artist. This has been hailed in Holland as a seminal contribution I am glad to say.

Was the response from the European public what you expected?

Yes, they are very responsive and sympathetic and don't need too much explanation.

“BOMB” is on show at the AAMU until January 5, 2014. For more information visit the AAMU website here.

Watch the trailer for “BOMB” below.