APT: Aboriginal People Try - 'The other APT'
An Aboriginal panel participant in the first Asia Pacific Triennial  related to me that after responding to the invitation, she realized on the day itself that she was in fact the only Aboriginal speaker. Being so affronted by the Indigenous absence she stated she would never come back [and hasn't]. One of the nagging criticisms of Brisbane’s hugely successful Asia Pacific Triennale has been their handling of ‘the Aboriginal problem’ and finding a space for the Asian and Pacific within us; those local Australian societies of Asian and Pacific heritage who have had a long and deep relationship with our national identity; though often folded/secreted within. Finding a credible comfortable conceptual space and opportunity for local participation rather than artist heroes from major economic giants of the region has lingered as a quandary of what has otherwise been a major achievement.
In Paris in the mid 1800s the officially accepted and exhibited artists in the Academy became so atrophied and exclusive that the Emperor intervened to establish both physically an exhibition of the rejected artwork and the practice of such parallel alternative events. In the years of the first A.P.T.s Brisbane’s IMA and a number of commercial galleries provided a form of ‘Salon des Refuse’ which contrasted and extended the themes of the main event but sadly some feel it has now morphed into a semi-official out-gallery of Q.G.o.M.A. and no longer fulfills this role. Maybe in our case the Emperor of Queensland needs to act? In this environment it’s good to see someone like artist and curator Jenny Fraser actively providing another ‘opening’ for said artists beyond the official frame. The medium is the message and in placing themselves in Raw Space Gallery, incorporated Parisian style inside a café and bar they are truly alternative to the ‘Big Art Gallery’ just across the back alleyway.
In Japan my hosts stuffed me with so much food and drink at every turn until I had to complain and query why I was being fattened like some prime Kobe beef carcass. It was explained to me that as the lack of a common language restricted the depth of communication that could occur between us, hence they kept laying on the food ensure my happiness. I often wondered how much communication really transpires in such blockbuster events and whether the level of exchange was in fact in an inverse relationship to the level of the party laid on.
‘the other APT’ exhibition itself explores issues for “Australia’s” Native peoples and our role in the Asia Pacific Region, and also deals with the issues of migration of our neighbours including the importance of Place, Legend, Identity, Politics and Mutual Respect in the interest and importance of open Art Dialogue. Although the exhibition of over 21 artists featured works from Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Melanesian, Polynesian, Maori and Asian Artists based in Australia, it is in the margins and blurred border regions of each aforementioned definition that the concept of the exhibition lies. Ambitiously it operates almost on an all-in, shotgun effect in order to achieve this, democratically featuring painting, digital prints, moving image, installations and performance of all kinds, scale and degrees of excellence and reputation from local grassroots artists. Parts of this of course succeed more than others but with this type of ‘happening’ there can be no notion of merely ‘sour grapes’, but some of the original energy, communication, excitement, and feeling of ownership of the art process is generated and experienced: the energy major art events struggle to maintain. The energy of ‘Framed’, Polytoxic’s collaboration with Chantal Fraser [no relation] on opening night in the restricted street level window box contained some of the best aesthetic qualities of ironically called ‘hybrid’ artwork. These contrasted with, but complemented the classically formal crafted rainforest shields and swords of Paul Bong in the next box.
The inside-outside nature of the exhibition space contributed to the overall balance in what was a very mixed show. You can be heroes - Jenny Fraser’s own contribution was the community, fraternal; ‘Native All Stars’ framed T-shirts and card collectibles. Charles Street’s silk screen prints, colour theory type of montage remind us of the proximity of PNG and our indifferent connection to it as a cultural and social site. He has recently worked in the now famous sculpture centre of Aurukun on west Cape York. Archie Moore's poignant colonial landscape talks of the indigenous absence, the great silence in Australian history concerning the Aboriginal presence. Ann Fuata’s wandering black bobby pinned character performance confronted attempts to control our self-image and personal sexuality. Overall an amazing mixed cavalcade that was worth the effort and must happen next time.
A closing footnote - down the road in Westend the mysterious studio of the ‘proppaNow’ Indigenous art group presented their initial exhibition ‘There Goes the Neighbourhood’, to provide a bookend to the ‘other APT’. A strong all Aboriginal artist show, it was really made more interesting for me for the new work of their younger members: the photographic series ’50 percent’ of Tony Albert and the ‘Window of Opportunity’ installation of Andrea Fisher.
Djon Mundine OAM – Indigenous Curator, Contemporary Art, Campbelltown Art Centre.
- this review was commissioned for artlink magazine, March 2007
: E by Archie Moore