It will come as no surprise to anyone that the Gang is heavily into proppaNOW, the artist-activist collective from Brisbane: Richard Bell, Laurie Nilsen, Megan Cope, Gordon Hookey, Jennifer Herd, Vernon Ah Kee and Tony Albert. Nothing like a double shot of healthy irreverence and up-the-culo of the status quo, eh – and that’s just for starters. So so crucial to the integrity of all things art-farty, indigenous or otherwise.
proppaNOW was spurred into action back in the 90’s (though it also partly evolved from an earlier group, Campfire) when members of the urban collective were dismissed as inauthentic (aboriginal artists) on the grounds that they weren’t proper, desert blackfellas. Unsurprisingly, they took umbrage. Who was whitey (let’s be frank, the art market is an entirely artificial white construct) to deny their aboriginality? [Oh the irony – in pre-millenium Queensland, of all places! n(Ed)] And who was whitey to dictate the tenor or nature of their art practice, period?
proppaNOW, consequently, now runs a no holds barred socio-political agenda, tackling all the hard issues of racial injustice with the grit and determination of a Maroons front-row pack. Or as Richard Bell would no doubt say, ‘bring it on, mother-fucker.’ Pure universal zeitgeist. We love that.
proppaNOW has landed in Bega, as the continuation of the BVRG’s annual Contemporary Indigenous program; aimed at encouraging local indigenous artists to fight hard for their right to party (…to borrow from the Beastie Boys.) Given that Aboriginal Art undeniably commands the lion’s share of the Australian art bourse and that art is the power tool in the struggle for social change, it makes far more sense to encourage local artists to find their own voice instead of submissively nobbling themselves to the stereotypical demands of the ‘ooga booga’ (to borrow a proppaNOW term) low-end tourist market. It’s all way more complex than that, of course, but a line needs to be drawn in the sand somewhere and at this point in time proppaNOW pretty much encapsulates the broader indigenous political mood.
The exhibition, proppaNOW: existence/resistance, opened at the BVRG on Friday the 13th July and runs until the 18th August. The perennially entertaining David Broker, Director of the Canberra Contemporary Art Space, performed the honours as opening speaker (seriously apt given that his association with various members of the group spans some 3 decades) and artists Richard Bell and Laurie Nilsen were on hand for both the launch and a Yarn-Up at Jigamy the following day.
This is work that gnaws at the comfort zone – and, actually, is way kinder than it could be. Clever, funny – but nonetheless a very clear admonishment. Fair enough and all, we reckon.
The show we got at Bega was (as Megan Cope’s piece subtly infers) whitewashed for local sensibilities.
More snaps here.