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Gordon Syron

Guilty, Your Honour 2007

Oil on Canvas

102cm x 152cm

Artists Statement

“Aboriginal artists deserve to rewrite Australian history. 
The setting is identified by strong ochre pigments of the desert to show the isolation and the heart of Australia.
I am fixated on the trespasser, the invader, the thief. What right did the redcoat have to take the land, to poison, to massacre, to rape, to steal our children for servants, to put us in chains?  Where did they come from?
The redcoat is ranking officer with three stripes, holds a musket, was recalled in 1860s by King George III; he stopped the sending of prisoners to Australia.
This painting, this story depicts the 1800s that brought an invisible but controlling religion symbolized by the ‘good’ book, the Bible and the Cross. We cannot see inside the book, its values that Christianity brought.  Genesis chapter 1 gives the white man the divine right “to go forth and replenish the earth”, which interpreted, means to take from the Indigenous people, the wildlife, the minerals, to clear the land and replace it with foxes, cows, sheep, rabbits, cane toads, etc.
Why is the convict / Christian hiding his head? He is a false prophet, a ghost of oppression, the spirit of illiteracy (the average man / free settler and the redcoat could not read).  I dressed the convict in the black cloak & hood of the hangman, the Black Plague, and the Klu Klux Klan.  The bible commands “Thou shalt not kill, steal, lust after the neighbour’s wife or land”, because the victim, the Aborigine in chains, cannot speak English or prove his religion, he is guilty of trespassing on his own land, guilty of cattle- spearing.  When the land was cleared of the kangaroo and emu, the Aborigine did not understand property rights.  His laws were to feed his family.  The white man’s law and chains were unforgivable.
The true history of Australia must recognize that the chained Aborigine was wise beyond belief, had a complex law system, language, and religion for thousands of years. This balance of survival cared for the wildlife, the environment, his family that was part of the land.
Dispossession of his land destroyed his soul.
I ask you the viewer,

“Who is guilty?”


Often described as the pioneer of Urban Aboriginal Art, Gordon Syron taught himself to paint while serving a ten-year sentence at Bathurst gaol in the 1970s. A defender of Aboriginal people’s rights to look after their own culture, he uses his art to expose the exploitation of his people since European colonisation.  Syron doesn’t paint dots - he paints the struggle of Aboriginal people. In his major work, “Judgement by his Peers”, painted in 1978 while in prison, Syron shows the failure of the criminal justice system to deliver justice to indigenous Australians.

Gordon has made many significant contributions to his community, as co-founder of the Eora College with Bobby Merritt, he was also the first art teacher there. He was the president of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee in the late 90s. From 1997 to 2007 his gallery, Black Fella's Dreaming supported and encouraged new, young and struggling artists. 
Gordon Syron is a Biripi / Worimi man known for his political and historical oil paintings. He is a self-taught artist who has carved himself a remarkable career which has influenced his peers in the artistic, political and cultural arenas. The extent of syron's work was seen in two retrospectives, the first in 1998 and again in 2004 at the Australian Museum, Sydney. In 2000 he was the artist-in-residence for the International Australian Humanist Society. In 2004 two of Gordon’s paintings were chosen to be displayed at the Athen’s Olympics: and then toured to Beijing to be displayed at the 2008 Olympics.