Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

Black Gum 2 (from Aus­tralian Graf­fiti se­ries), 2008. Col­lec­tion: Queens­land Art Gallery. Pur­chased Queens­land Art Gallery Foun­da­tion Grant, 2008. On dis­play, Gallery of Mod­ern Art, Bris­bane, in My Coun­try: I Still Call Aus­tralia Home, un­til Oc­to­ber 7.

WHEN Chris­tian Thomp­son is talk­ing to peo­ple he of­ten vi­su­alises bright red waratahs, banksias, gum blos­soms or flan­nel flow­ers sprout­ing from their mouths or pro­trud­ing from their shoul­ders.

It is this vi­su­al­i­sa­tion that led to one of Thomp­son’s best known suite of pho­to­graphs, Black Gum, from his Aus­tralian Graf­fiti se­ries. But while you may chuckle at the thought of see­ing na­tive flora ex­plod­ing from un­derneath a black hoodie, the im­ages have a deeper mes­sage, ac­cord­ing to Bruce McLean, cu­ra­tor of in­dige­nous Aus­tralian art at the Gallery of Mod­ern Art in Bris­bane.

‘‘ It is quite a sin­is­ter mes­sage re­lat­ing to youth cul­ture, but in par­tic­u­lar the black hoodie is re­lat­ing to gangs, to crime and to the face­less­ness of Abo­rig­i­nal youth, and it is a re­ally im­por­tant way to think about th­ese im­ages,’’ McLean says.

‘‘ The pho­to­graphs are strik­ing, with a re­ally pow­er­ful theme that Abo­rig­i­nal youth in­car­cer­a­tion rates are the high­est of any group in the world.

‘‘ It is in­cred­i­ble to think at a time when we are think­ing about rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and about clos­ing the gap, that more and more youth, who will be­come the adult pop­u­la­tion, are be­ing jailed and turn­ing to crime.’’

This mes­sage was backed up in a re­cent es­say, Un­fin­ished Busi­ness: Re­duc­ing In­dige­nous In­car­cer­a­tion, by Stu­art Ross, di­rec­tor of Melbourne Crim­i­no­log­i­cal Re­search and Eval­u­a­tion at the Univer­sity of Melbourne. Ross notes that from 2000 to 2010 the in­dige­nous im­pris­on­ment rate in­creased by 52 per cent, while non-in­dige­nous rates have hardly changed.

The Black Gum se­ries high­lights all th­ese is­sues, and it is on dis­play in My Coun­try: I Still Call Aus­tralia Home at GOMA. The ex­hi­bi­tion show­cases the di­ver­sity of con­tem­po­rary Abo­rig­i­nal art, and Thomp­son’s pho­to­graphs re­flect a younger gen­er­a­tion of artists who are telling their sto­ries in a dif­fer­ent and cap­ti­vat­ing way.

Black Gum 2 fea­tures the artist dressed in the black hoodie, his face vir­tu­ally ob­scured be­hind a spray of blos­soms. The flow­ers re­fer to how Abo­rig­ines are of­ten con­sid­ered just like flora and fauna, less than hu­man, and to how Aus­tralian cul­ture has been in­fat­u­ated with na­tive flora and the ap­pro­pri­a­tion of its mo­tifs.

On the sub­ject of flow­ers, Thomp­son once wrote that he ‘‘ car­ries the flow­ers with him like the most quin­tes­sen­tial Aus­tralian sym­bol. I think of the flow­ers as a par­tic­u­larly Aus­tralian palette and have com­posed them in my mind this way.’’

While Thomp­son thinks of him­self first as a con­tem­po­rary artist, he says he sees the world through the eyes of his mixed her­itage. He was born in Gawler, South Aus­tralia, in 1978; his mother has Bri­tish con­vict and free set­tler her­itage, while his fa­ther’s cul­ture is Bid­jara, from Bar­cal­dine, in Queens­land.

In the past two years Thomp­son has gained a high pro­file. A grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of South­ern Queens­land and the Royal Melbourne In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, he be­came in 2010 one of the first Abo­rig­i­nal Aus­tralians to be ac­cepted into Ox­ford Univer­sity. He was awarded an in­au­gu­ral Charles Perkins schol­ar­ship and will soon com­plete his doc­tor­ate.

Ear­lier this year, for the first time in 450 years, Trin­ity Col­lege, Ox­ford, re­moved all the old con­ser­va­tive por­traits from its din­ing room and re­placed them with a sur­vey show of Thomp­son’s work.

This month, to co­in­cide with his se­lec­tion in an Aus­tralian land­scape ex­hi­bi­tion at Lon­don’s Royal Acad­emy, he also has a de­but show at the Hos­pi­tal Club Gallery in Covent Gar­den. Thomp­son also will be show­ing new pho­to­graphic work, Pa­gan Sun, at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Fitzroy, Melbourne, from Oc­to­ber 23 to Novem­ber 16.

Type C pho­to­graph on pa­per, 108cm x 110cm

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