Reviews/Visual Art

Trio of exhibitions exposes dark and violent truths

16 February 2023

Brimming with energy and purpose, John Curtin Gallery’s three change-making exhibitions should not be missed, says Jaimi Wright.

Occasionally, I am fortunate enough to see art that has the potential to create real change. The kind of art that brims with energy and purpose and has such a cogent and persuasive voice, its message demands to be listened to. “However vast the darkness…” at John Curtin Gallery is a collection of exhibitions filled with this potential.

Three exhibitions are contained under the title: Bow Echo (2019) by Aziz Hazara, OCCURRENT AFFAIR by proppaNOW and In Pursuit of Venus (Infected) (2015 – 17) by Lisa Reihana. Each is an incredibly powerful and moving body of work. Together they challenge the viewer to reassess the stories of marginalised communities by unleashing the power of truth and protest.

The leftmost wing of the gallery houses Hazara’s large-scale video work Bow Echo, which is projected across five expansive screens.

On each of the screens, which depict the same mountaintop overlooking Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, a local boy fades into view, repeatedly blowing a plastic bugle and struggling to stay upright against the wind.

The title of the exhibition Bow Echo refers to a relentless string of thunderstorms that travel in a straight line. Hazara, who grew up in war torn Kabul, evokes through the bleakness of the landscape and the plaintive cries of the boy’s instruments, a powerful illustration of the relentless efforts of the Afghan people against the repeated atrocities and repression they face from terrorist organisations.

OCCURRENT AFFAIR, by Brisbane-based Aboriginal art collective proppaNOW, occupies the second wing of the gallery and its foyer. Composed of commissions and existing works by artists Vernon Ah Kee, Tony Albert, Richard Bell, Megan Cope, Jennifer Herd, Gordon Hookey and the late Laurie Nilsen, this collaborative exhibition brings to the fore ideas of environmental, cultural and political protest, as well as championing the spirit, strength and longevity of First Nations culture.

A work from However vast the darkness... The word 'austracism' appears in bold over a background of many other words in a tight paragraph.
Vernon Ah Kee’s ‘Austracism’ uses a play on words to accentuate baselessness racist beliefs. Vernon Ah Kee, ‘austracism’, 2003, ink on polypropylene board, satin laminated, edition 1/3, 120 x 179.5cm board, overall 120 x 179.5 x 0.5cm, collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2021.

Ah Kee’s Austracism uses a play on words over small print to accentuate the baselessness of racist beliefs in Australia aimed at First Nations people. “Austracism”, a localised homophone for “ostracism”, is printed in large font over common defensive racist statements that all begin with the phrase “I’m not racist but…” The format of fine print is used to draw attention to the façade of fact cast on these statements, an approach that cleverly and pointedly reveals the fallacy of the small print’s convictions.

Megan Cope’s Deadwood highlights the injustices perpetrated by colonisers on Aboriginal people in Australia’s history, and the continual environmental damage caused to country. To achieve this, Cope has printed an enormous condition report on Australia – its decreasing population of animals, plants and ecosystems – onto planks of paperbark. The conditional list is methodical and overwhelming in scale and ends with an eviction notice, written on behalf of First Nations people, to those who have committed the damage.

Concisely, and with great impact, Deadwood both reveals the extent of the environmental degradation of country and asserts the continuity of Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians of this land.

A landscape depicting a colonial scene in which First Nations people appear to be administering medical attention to a coloniser.
A vital piece of rewriting of the past: Lisa Reihana, video installation, 7.1 channel sound ‘in Pursuit of Venus [infected]’, 2017, 65:00 mins, ‘Banks Transit of Venus, Mourning, Stars, Sex Trade’ (production still) courtesy of the artist, Curtin University Art Collection.

In the third and final wing of the gallery is Lisa Reihana’s cinematic installation In Pursuit of Venus (Infected). At first the viewer encounters a full-scale facsimile of Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (1804 – 1805), an idealised and orientalised representation of Pacific Island people by their colonisers. As an artist of Maori and British descent, Reihana reimagines the naïve quaintness of the facsimile’s interactions between Pacific Islanders and colonisers to more accurately represent the atrocities the Pacific Islands would have experienced at the hands of the Empire.

Using a similar soft colour palette, landscape and panoramic style to the facsimile, Reihana brings the encounters to life, using actors to show the acts of violence experienced by the Pacific Islander people at the hands of the colonisers. The juxtaposition is stunning and devastating, and a vital piece of rewriting of this world’s colonial past.

“However vast the darkness…” is not for the faint of heart, but neither is the truth of the violence experienced by marginalised communities the world over. If I could give this trio of exhibitions five and a half stars, I would.

“However vast the darkness…” continues at John Curtin Gallery until 16 April 2023. Entry is free.

Pictured top: Aziz Hazara, ‘Bow Echo’, 2019, production still from 5 channel video installation with sound, duration 4:17 mins, image courtesy the artist & Experimenter, Kolkata, India.

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Author —
Jaimi Wright

Jaimi is a Development Coordinator for ARTRAGE and your friendly neighbourhood arts writer. She also writes for Art Almanac and ArtsHub as she cannot keep still. Her favourite piece of play equipment is the roundabout even though her stomach should know better.

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