Offering an alternative narrative to the imminent arrival in Bendigo ‘The Royals’ is a moving and sensitive display titled Body Politics. Curated with works from our collection the display traverses the themes of multiculturalism, post-colonialism, feminism and nationism with the body as the central tool or focus for this debate.
One key work on display is Sons of Sycorax, by contemporary Perth based artist Abdul Abdullah. While his own experiences as a Muslim Australian of mixed ethnicity provide a starting point, Abdullah negotiates shared understandings of individual identity. The image is a self-portrait of the artist carrying a net of black balloons. Reimagining Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ Abdullah poses as ‘Caliban’ who is the son of Sycorax, the dead ‘witch’. It has been said that in medieval times, women who were independent and challenged the rules of the patriarchal thought were very often accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death. Post-colonial readings of the play cast Sycorax as a paradigm for all women of the third world who are silenced by patriarchal structures (though this is typically a ‘western’ reading of the east)
Abdullah recreates the scene in the play where Caliban is sent by his slave master Prospero to fetch firewood. In place of wood he carries black balloons – a direct reference to the black balloons that were tied to the letterboxes of Muslim families and their supporters in the 2014 anti-mosque protests in Bendigo, a scene that gained national attention and outrage within Muslim and non-muslim Australian communities.
This work – situated amongst other fine examples from contemporary artists of varied backgrounds – invites audiences to consider the politics of race, gender, history, and identity – and ¬in doing so – celebrate the freedom and diversity of our artistic and broader communities.
Body Politics is curated by Shonae Hobson, First Nations Curator, Kaantju on display until July 2019. Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits opens 16 March.
By Jessica Bridgfoot