Daniel Mudie Cunningham, True Colours (2016). Collection Wollongong Art Gallery. Purchased 2016. On display in the exhibition New Acquisitions Collection, Wollongong Art Gallery, NSW, until June 4. I see your true colors shining through I see your true colors And that’s why I love you In 1986, American singer Cyndi Lauper released one of her most successful worldwide hits, True Colors. In the 30 years since, the song has been covered by many performers including Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick on the soundtrack of Trolls, Phil Collins and Kasey Chambers. It was used as a theme song for the 2003 Rugby World Cup and has become an enduring gay anthem, often used in support of LGBTI communities and to evoke a sense of togetherness.
In 2016 Sydney-based artist Daniel Mudie Cunningham decided to do his own version of Lauper’s True Colors video. He updated the stylised beach setting of the original video, but with a twist. He re-created it based on the race riots that took place in the Sydney beachside suburb of Cronulla in December 2005.
Cunningham’s True Colours has been acquired recently by NSW’s Wollongong Art Gallery, and it is on show in the exhibition New Acquisitions Collection. When I visit Wollongong, the artist shows me the work and explains that he wanted to respond to the Cronulla riots from the perspective of a decade having passed.
“I wanted to make something that engaged with the tropes of nationalism in relation to a local environment such as Cronulla but also from a queer perspective,” he says. “I also wanted to look at that idea of male mateship of the riots.”
He says Lauper’s song and video were crucial to his project. “I grew up in the 80s and Cyndi Lauper was one of my huge idols. I was watching her music video, which I had seen a million times as a kid, and I thought, ‘ Oh my god this video is like it was set on Cronulla beach.’ And as I was watching it I thought, ‘I can remake this on Cronulla beach and Australianise all the iconography in this clip and just totally reinvent it.’ I thought it was a wacky idea but I could do it.”
With the assistance of an Australia Council grant, Cunningham did a shot-by-shot remake of the original video. He rented a studio, made props and worked with a cast, crew and designer. Cunningham played the Lauper character. Some of his friends helped out, such as actress Nell Schofield, who starred in the 1980s film Puberty Blues, set around Cronulla.
“True Colours is all about Cronulla and this fantasy of Cronulla beach,” Cunningham says. “There is sand from Cronulla beach, there is a Southern Cross tattoo drawn on my back, the hair is meant to be wattle. Lauper’s newspaper dress in the original becomes shredded front page headlines about Cronulla. The people sitting in the boat, I see them as boatpeople. And my headdress has beer bottle tops in reference to the beer on the beach that was the fuel for the anger and violence.”
Cunningham says he chose the Cronulla riots because he grew up and worked in the area. “I think the riots had a great impact on discourses of race, class and gender in Australian life. I think it really was an important moment, one that was a catalyst for talking about these issues that were manifest in the community.”
The gallery’s program director, John Monteleone, says True Colours is evocative and powerful, and it is a significant addition to the collection. “I think video work in many ways is able to tell stories in a much more accessible way than a static work. And when you get an artist who vocalises issues such as the Cronulla riots in a very accessible way I think it is very important the community gets to see it.”
Still, digital film 4.06min duration