By Kristina Sfreddo
In his first solo WA exhibition, contemporary Queensland artist Richard Bell brings us Embassy – a bold, brazen and honest collection of works which contest the state of art, politics and the treatment of Aboriginal people throughout Australia’s post-colonial history.
Continuing Bell’s long career of activism through art, Embassy features artworks that are highly political, confronting and discomforting – Bell has never been one to hold back his ideas, thoughts and experiences. One such artwork is the prominent 2013 installation and video piece, Tent Embassy. Originally a protest site set up in Canberra in 1972 on the lawns of Parliament House, the ‘Aboriginal Embassy’ was as a fundamental meeting place for activists to rally against the government’s refusal to grant human and land rights to Aboriginal people. In Tent Embassy, Bell stars in his own video footage, meeting with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in various settings. The many reactions and discussions that ensue prompts the viewer to re-visit and re-assess their own thoughts about Australia’s past, stimulating new conversation and the potential for change in the present and future.
Bell uses this exhibition to touch on significant political points throughout Australia’s post-colonisation history. In his 2012 piece, Foley vs. the Springboks (Lone Protestor), Bell comments on the hypocrisy of the 1971 anti-apartheid protest held during the South African rugby team’s tour of Australia, since the inequalities and prejudices against Aboriginal people at the time weren’t being as fiercely protested.
In Prelude to a Trial (Bell’s Theorem), Omega (Bell’s Theorem) and Not Just Greed and Fear, Bell expresses his strong defiance against the commodification of indigenous culture through the buying and selling of cultural pieces and artworks, and rebels the very concept of ‘Aboriginal Art’ as categorised by the art industry.
Embassy jolts us as an audience wide awake and works to challenge us – our opinions, our beliefs and who we think we are. History is re-visited in ways that cannot be overlooked or disguised. But alongside the messages of wake-up and own-up remains a sense of hope, solidarity and an un-wavering resolve in the artist to push for real social and political change and to narrow the equality gap that divides not only indigenous and non-indigenous life in Australia but also the inequalities and injustices worldwide.
Embassy runs from 13 February – 27 April 2014 in the West End Gallery.
Richard Bell will be presenting a closing debate at the PICA Performance Space on Saturday 29th March as part of the Practicing Resistance Symposium. The event will explore activism through art and the role it plays in contemporary life, and will feature lectures by visiting speakers from the Asia Pacific as well as a panel discussion. The symposium runs from 1-7pm and RSVPs are essential. For more information or to RSVP email firstname.lastname@example.org.