DETAIL: Mary MARABAMBA Fish trap No 27 #3017-01 2001 jungle vine, bush string Purchased 2002

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Contemporary urban-based artists have drawn on their individual and shared histories and experiences. The work of Rea, a Kamileroi/Wailwan artist, often contains potent gender-based and sociopolitical references, as in her imposing Resistance flag 1996. With its striking reworking of the Aboriginal flag,1 overlaid with the word ‘resistance’, the banner acts as a metaphor for the survival of Indigenous people over the past 200 or so years.

Christian Thompson is a young Bidjara/German-Jewish-Australian artist and curator, born in South Australia, whose people are from regional Queensland, south-west of Brisbane. Relocating to Queensland in his early teens, he has been based in Melbourne since 1999, initially as an art student and more recently as an artist with a number of solo exhibitions to his credit. He has also curated exhibitions of the work of other Indigenous photo-media artists. Now aged in his early twenties, Thompson has rapidly emerged as a force to be reckoned with in new-media art and technology.

Kangaroo and boomerang jumper 2002 and Untitled (Marcia Langton) 2002 are from the series Blaks’ Palace2 from Thompson’s solo exhibition held during 2002 Melbourne Fashion Week. Thompson is one of many young, emerging Indigenous artists who challenge our understanding of Australian identity and what it means to be ‘Australian’. By reappropriating kitsch imagery of bygone times and reinvesting it with his own stylised intent, he subverts the safety net of icons that non-Indigenous Australians think we all ‘own’ — in this case, iconic images of native fauna and Indigenous tools. The boomerang, for example, has been appropriated as a logo by national airlines, real estate companies and, most recently, the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

Thompson’s jumper is modelled with confidence by renowned Indigenous academic and activist, Marcia Langton, who shares the same heritage as the artist. Machine-knitted by professional machinists, the jumper is 98% polyester and 2% wool, its bilious colours far removed from the brilliant palette of the Australian bush which it purports to represent. The ridiculous sleeves can take on a myriad of meanings, turning the item of clothing into a literal as well as metaphorical straightjacket. These two works from the Gallery’s collection are joined by Ayers Rock/Uluru jumper 2002, from the same series, which portrays an almost unrecognisable image of another Australian icon, the sacred site of Uluru in central Australia.

Tactility: Two centuries of Indigenous objects, textiles and fibre draws on objects from the National Gallery of Australia collection, accompanied by a number of key loans from private and public collections. Many of the works selected from the Gallery’s collection are relatively unfamiliar to the general public, as they have not been on display since their acquisition, or not for a significant period.

The detection and research that accompanies the uncovering, the lifting of the veils of history, reveals the unexpected to a new audience. The intangible — what once could only be imagined via colonial paintings, etchings, drawings and descriptions of the day, filtered by two centuries — becomes tangible.

1 The Aboriginal flag was designed by a Luritja/Wombai artist, Harold Thomas, in 1971. It was first raised by Thomas at Victoria Square, Adelaide, on National Aborigines Day, 12 July 1971. It was also flown at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in the following year. Of the three colours in the flag, black symbolises Aboriginal people, yellow represents the sun, the constant renewer of life, and red depicts the earth and also ochre, which is used by Aboriginal people in ceremonies.
2 ‘Blak’ is a term that was coined by Destiny Deacon in the late 1980s.

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