“Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”
Did you know that Australia is the only colonised country in the western world that hasn’t signed a treaty with their indigenous people? Surprisingly, that is not as confronting as some Spanish guy pouring indigenous blood over the British Flag. And yet, thanks to general offence, we’ve cancelled one and forgotten the other.
How is this okay?
The censorship alone is by far the greatest crime. Not only does it shroud the reality that Aboriginal people face, it also weakens our minds into that of sheep. Where we are treated like children who mustn’t think. Where the expression of thoughts and ideas are controlled by governing bodies. How are we meant to challenge the morals of society if we’re oblivious to it?
We have to remember that not all art is pretty. Sometimes art is designed to elicit emotions other than happiness. As author Cesar A. Cruz once said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” And clearly we Australians have succumbed to comfort.
I must concede that spilling blood on the Union Jack is quite confronting. Even though the blood is sourced ethically through expressions of interest, it’s still human blood. But there’s a metaphor here, as the artist Santiago Sierra explains:
“The First Nations people of Australia suffered enormously and brutally from British colonialism,” Santiago says. “Nowhere more so than in Tasmania where the Black War in the early nineteenth century had a devastating impact, almost killing the entire Tasmanian Aboriginal population – an act that has since been defined as genocide.”
The fact is, Aboriginal people have spilled far too much blood already. And for what? Implied freedoms? Closing the gap initiatives that are reminiscent of White Australia Policy and assimilation? As noted, they’ve still yet to get a treaty.
But the brutal truth is that we don’t care. It’s all in the past, we say. They’re already getting so much from the government anyway, what more do they want? They’re all just drug and alcohol abusers with no self-respect.
Fucking hell, of course they are! How would you feel if your history is shelved as unimportant? How would you act when nobody truly cares about your culture? All troubled relationships can be fixed with compromise, but we’re not even listening enough to compromise.
We’re just not listening, and that’s the point of Santiago’s art. Because even today, Aboriginal Australians are bleeding thanks to our complacency.
The Death Of Self-Expression
There’s another darker consequence of censorship and that is the death of self-expression. We fear to offend, so we amend to appease. Or, worse, we chuck it in the bin. Thus removing any possibility of change. And therefore solidifying the power dynamic; where governments continue to incarcerate indigenous people at higher rates. Where mining companies continue to eradicate Aboriginal history. Where, year on year, we celebrate a national day that does not unify the entire country.
In the midst of Dark Mofo’s bloody debacle, Creative Director Leigh Carmichael made a short statement defending the work before subsequently cancelling it. His final word in this is very telling about Australia.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with responses to Santiago Sierra’s Union Flag by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from around the world,” Leigh said. “We understand, respect and appreciate the many diverse views in relation to this confronting project.
“Self-expression is a fundamental human right, and we support artists to make and present work regardless of their nationality or cultural background.
“The range of perspectives reflects the conversations we had with Tasmanian Aboriginal people prior to announcing the project.
“It’s not surprising that the atrocities committed as a result of colonising nations continue to haunt us.”
Wake up, Australia. We’re not as fair dinkum as we can be.
Feature image: NEOSiAM 2021 from Pexels