HEREBY MAKE PROTEST REVIEW: A HISTORICAL REFLECTION ON ABORIGINAL ACTIVISM – THE GUARDIAN AUSTRALIA
June 18, 2014
By Larissa Behrendt
A new exhibition mixes historical documentation with modern interpretation of key Aboriginal activists
In the old rail yards of Carriageworks, one of the more interesting venues in inner-city Sydney, Hereby Make Protest is an exhibition that mixes historical documentation held by the NSW State Library and new work by Aboriginal artists Karla Dickens, Nicole Foreshew and Jacob Nash.
Jack Patten, Fred Maynard, William Cooper and William Ferguson should be household names. They established the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association in 1924 that became the Aborigines Progressive Association in 1937. These organisations gave Aboriginal Australians their first national voice, established the first Indigenous newspaper and ran political campaigns, including the now iconic Day of Mourning held outside Australia Hall in 1938.
Included in the exhibition are neatly typed letters to premiers and mission managers, petitions and meeting minutes. This material shows strong objections to the policy of removing Aboriginal children, the racial segregation that dominated their lives and claims to equal citizenship rights. There are also clearly articulated seeds of subsequent political movements, namely, the modern land rights movement and self-determination.
This eloquent articulation, from the strongest voices of their generation, of social, economic and political aspirations, has an almost haunting ring in that they mirror contemporary claims, reminding us that we have only gone so far in finding the rightful place of Aboriginal people and their rights in a modern Australia.
Just as interesting and provocative as these documents are the contemporary reflections on the legacy of this political movement by Dickens, Foreshew and Nash.
The dominant image in the space is the installation by Nash. A sea of ochre-painted shoes builds his Walk in Protest and pays homage to the street marches of the 1920s and 1930s and their link to current protests. It is a stark reminder that large political movements are made up of individuals walking as a crowd and in the same direction. The second-hand shoes are haunting reminders of lives lived and now passed, a salute to a past generation that left its own legacy behind.
Nash’s installation points towards Foreshew’s new media work that loops stark landscapes with lone figures. Evocative of Ricky Maynard’s wild but fecund photography of the Tasmanian landscape, there is an unsettling moodiness in the terrain and the occasional lone figure that walks it. The positioning of the two pieces create an atmosphere of one meditating on the other.
Dickens has also produced two significant pieces. Assimilated Warriors is a complex but powerful installation. Bejewelled, feathered and encrusted masks appear warrior-like but also feel ceremonial and celebratory, sitting alongside suit jackets on empty hooks, adorned with feathers and woven possum. They have a sombre dignity as they express the tensions and the difficulties of being caught between two worlds.
Demanding a Voice is Tiresome is an elegant piece. A quilt with printing and embroidery, it is a tribute to the often forgotten work of women in the movement. They are the quiet achievers sitting behind the scenes, supporting male leaders.
Redfern has always been a hotbed of political activity and, under Lisa Havilah’s directorship, Carriageworks has worked to engage in the local history as part of its engagement with and contribution to the local community. Hereby Make Protest is a fitting acknowledgment of Redfern’s political influence and roots. It is also a reminder of the rich cultural and political history around the city of Sydney and an opportunity to pay tribute to a long fight for justice.
Image 1: A modern meditation on political activity from the past. Photograph: Zan Wimberley
Image 2: Artwork from Hereby Make Protest. Photograph: Zan Wimberley