Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

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

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