Indigenous voice is unique and complex

National Reconciliation Week is an important time to celebrate contemporary artists who identify as Indigenous Australians.

Tracey Moffatt, the first female Indigenous person to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale, is currently making waves on an international stage with her evocative solo exhibition ‘My Horizons’.

IRONY: Gordon Bennett's politically-charged works like Abstraction (towndweller) are one thread in the narrative of life as told by Indigenous Australian artists.

IRONY: Gordon Bennett's politically-charged works like Abstraction (towndweller) are one thread in the narrative of life as told by Indigenous Australian artists.

Closer to home, the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) is hosting a must-see major exhibition by artist Christian Thompson – one of only two Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the University of Oxford.

Thompson – the custodian of the endangered language Bidjara – creates highly-stylised performances using sound, photography and film commenting on cultural hybridity, identity and indigenous and colonial history.

Currently at the Gallery we have an extensive display of works by contemporary Indigenous artists, illustrating the popularity and significant contribution indigenous voices make to the telling of life through art.

From the epic and evocative shimmering desert landscapes of Dorothy Napangardi in Mina Mina Salt Lakes to the precariously-constructed house of cards We Come in Peace by Tony Albert, these artists’ voices are unique, robust and command our attention.

The late Gordon Bennett (Abstraction, towndweller, pictured) skirted controversy with his politically-charged works that frequently lampooned the art world and notions of the white bourgeois.

Challenging the (white male) canon of art history, Bennett’s paintings riffed off Howard Arkley, Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian with an acerbic wit that often caught the taste-makers of the art world unawares.

If my work is political then that is because of the politics of my position and the cultural climate in which I live and work. I didn’t go to Art College to graduate as an ‘Aboriginal Artist'.

Gordon Bennett

Refusing to be pigeonholed he began painting suburban interiors under the pseudonym John Citizen, shrugging off any expectations or generalisations.

“If my work is political then that is because of the politics of my position and the cultural climate in which I live and work. I didn’t go to Art College to graduate as an ‘Aboriginal Artist,’” he said.  

A telling statement (and somewhat ironic given the topic of this article).

Bennett illuminates the complex irony of contemporary identity by showing that cultural heritage can be the subject of both celebration and constraint.