REVIEW: The Most Gaoled Race on Earth
The Most Gaoled Race on Earth exhibition, by artists Blak Douglas and Adam Geczy hosted at The Lock Up, is a “hard hitting” collaborative display directly addressing the cultural repression and misrepresentation of Indigenous Australians. Via the combination of site specific installations, mediated sculpted objects and graphic works, Geczy and Douglas challenge the perpetual racism of the wider Australia public many of whom maintain “a deep ignorance” of aboriginal history and rights.
Upon entry to the opening night of the anticipated exhibit, patrons are greeted with an array of beverages and snacks and a buzzing atmosphere. The time is 6:15pm when myself and two friends enter the gallery and the place is already crammed with people eager to view the provocative and enlightening display. We choose to take the corridor ahead of us first, opening out into a clean white gallery space, eerily spacious as the first piece to capture my eye hangs suspended from the ceiling.
It is 8 convict uniforms printed with acronyms of Australia’s States and Territories in a palette of red, yellow and black, the colours of the Aboriginal Flag. It is titled ‘Unfair Game’, a parody of the term ‘fair game’ as to reflect the nature of Indigenous Australians through the violent perspective of settlers, alluding to the comparison to animals. Accompanying the uniforms are two black blazers adorned with red and yellow and traditional dot-painting style embellishment.
Another piece is obscured slightly behind the hanging uniforms, and at first the statement it is making is unclear. It is a series of ‘mugshot’ style photographs of famous antiquities which may be found in Naples, titled ‘Dead White Males’. The venue complements the subject matter in a disturbing and sad sense.
After inspecting the other pieces of that space, we venture into arguably one of the most striking pieces of the exhibit. It is a projection installation of Richard Green narrating a poem he has written, the static flickering image illuminating the dark converted cell in a way that is sure to haunt me for a while to come.
Neighbouring this is another cell, this time starkly lit from a single overhead source. Its role is to illuminate the piece, swinging ever so slightly from the ceiling through fishing line and brutal looking hooks. In accordance to the plaque outside the narrow space, this is an impassioned statement on Indigenous deaths in custody.
Another of the many jarring works is one titled ‘Solitary Confinement’, featuring a 1950s garden statue of a young indigenous child flooded by a single spot-light style light, contrasted by flashing red and blue hues mimicking that of a police car from the corner of the emotive closed cell.
As we were mesmerised by the power of the exhibit, we realise people have gathered in the converted exercise yard for a Welcome to Country and Official Opening by Aunty Sandra, preceding an opening message by Glen Boney. The space is so crowded we can’t enter via the sole original rusted bar door; observers are spilling out into the hall, everyone listening intently to the speakers.
Next to speak is Uncle Joe Weatherall. After thanking the board, he humorously encourages everyone to add their thoughts to the comments book outside, stating “if you have an opinion, whether it’s a good opinion or a bad opinion, write it down”.
Following this is artist Adam Geczy, who immediately acknowledges his collaborator of over 8 years, Blak Douglas, and makes a statement on having such poignant commentary in an “institution such as this” (The Lock-Up). He maintains this by eloquently reminding us of the “incarcerated spirits before us”, then sincerely thanking the elders of the Indigenous community for their “vision of foresight”.
After the opening speakers conclude, a sea of people flows from the exercise hall and trickles back throughout the entire gallery, clusters of old friends and new friends can be overheard discussing the important nature of the exhibit. Once the original rush of patrons subsides, the exercise hall can finally be accessed. The installation mourns the loss of the crowd by swinging eerily, casting variating and overlapping shadows onto the scarred walls of the exercise walls, evoking the sense of a ghost.
The Most Gaoled Race makes up part 1 of a two part series of exhibitions. Part 2 will follow with The Most Stolen Race on Earth to be exhibited at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art (NCCA) Darwin, later in 2016.
The Most Gaoled Race on Earth is showing now at The Lock-Up from: 19 MARCH – 24 APRIL 2016. This is a FREE EVENT.
Event review by Sophie Graham for Culture Hunter.
Are you holding an arts event in Newcastle or broader Lower Hunter? Would you like to have your event reviewed be the Culture Hunter Editorial Team? Request an interview today. As long as we have someone available, we’ll be sure to send them along to review your event.
Artform: Visual Arts