Christian Thompson is one of many young, emerging Indigenous artists who challenge our very understanding of Australian identity and what it means to ‘be’ Australian.
Kangaroo and boomerang jumper and Tiwi jumper are ‘housed’ in display cases reminiscent of the reptile house at the zoo, the intentionally useless sleeves of the apparel entwined around the disembodied torsos, resembling contemporary versions of the Rainbow Serpent, a significant Indigenous ancestral being.
The original early 1980s pattern book from which Thompson drew inspiration portrayed attire purporting to represent Australia and Indigenous icons adorning non-Indigenous models, thereby relegating Indigenous people to the status of invisibility. Not so the case in Thompson’s re-staging of the original images.
‘Blak’s Palace follows on from my previous work that challenges notions of Aboriginality manifested in an Anglo–Celtic or western artifice. This works speaks specifically of a particular era — the 1980s. However, the colours chosen for the jumpers reference powder pinks, sky blues and camel browns that so often decorate kitsch or tourist market objects referencing Indigenous people. I’m basically reinterpreting these 1980s items of clothing by making them in the residue of 1950s kitsch. People like me who grew up in the 1980s in regional Australia, well there was material like these jumpers being made — suggestive of Aboriginal culture but definitely not representative of what Aboriginal culture meant to Aboriginal people.
The title [of the series] derives from my traditional country near Springsure in the Carnarvon Gorge [in Queensland]. Our traditional painting on the rock faces in the Gorge illustrates our [D]reaming and is a fertility site for women. Many blacks and whites in southwest Queensland call this place the Blak’s Palace, inferring that this site is of immense beauty — it is for me.’
(Christian Thompson, artist’s statement, 2002)