Gordon Hookey | The Saturday Journal – 71Bait

Gordon Hookey’s paintings skewer Australian history, politics and culture with wit and precision. They possess a freedom that first took root during the Waanyi artist’s childhood in a community of Murri families near Coppermine Creek, Queensland. A MURRIALITY – a survey of three decades of Hookey’s practice in painting, sculpture, printmaking and video – opens this week at the UNSW Galleries, where Hookey attended art school before going to the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane.

Hookey has shown work at The National: New Australian Art, the 10th Asia Pacific Triennial, and documenta 14 in Kassel and Athens. He presented it for the first time at documenta 14 MURRILAND!, an acclaimed cycle of murals that boldly reinterprets the history of the Murri people. It is informed in part by 101 worksa series of paintings by Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu, a Congolese artist who heavily influenced the country’s visual culture before disappearing in 1981.

tell me about 101 works by Tshibumba Kanda Matulu. It was the inspiration for MURRILAND!, an epic cycle of paintings depicting Queensland history, originally commissioned for documenta 14. Kanda-Matulu was part of the first wave of Congolese artists to grapple with the country’s brutal colonial history under Belgian rule. How were you introduced to him?

Well, I probably wouldn’t have come across his work at all if it wasn’t for an Australian curator in Amsterdam, Vivian Ziherl. She had seen elements of his work that matched mine. She wanted me to do something similar, but Australia is such a big place with so many different nations. She said, “Why don’t you paint Queensland history from your perspective?”

I don’t see myself as a history painter. Tshibumba did. He was a history student. He was maybe like a journalist. He read and recorded. He went to the museum and the library and documented in pictures what happened in the past. But actually he lived through political upheavals. It was dangerous: there were murders, there were murders, there were factions, there was politics. Belgian colonial encroachments were still taking place. He would have negotiated his ideas with what he read and saw and the instability of his political situation.

Vivian showed me Tshibumba’s work and said that’s why you should do it – the similarities, the lyrics, the colour, the political message. I belong to a collective called proppaNOW and my way of working is to look at the contemporary of what’s going on with my people. What Vivian asked of me was to look back and take pictures of my past, the Murri past, the First Nations past. Although history affects our present and our future, I hate to read. I will listen to people and this information has much more validity for me. I couldn’t say no because I lived in poverty. I thought about getting a real job, not doing more art. I had two little boys who came with me. I had to take care of my family. She got me out of the art farewell.

In the 1970s, Kanda-Matulu was commissioned to produce it by Dutch anthropologist Johannes Fabian 101 works. It presents a counter-story to what he learned in his textbooks. For example, he celebrates the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, who was involved in the fight for Africa’s independence. What do you admire most? 101 works? There are similarities to your work, but yours is much more conceptual.

I [first] saw Tshibumba’s work in books given to me and on screen. And in my psyche, in my thinking, in my relationship with them, they were great. They had this stature, these Gravitas. I had seen them as massive works because they dealt with massive ideas.

Johannes Fabian donated the works to the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. As part of the assignment, I was invited to view the works. They were down in the basement, on rails. And when they came out, they impressed me because they were all small worlds. Not to say I was disappointed! When I saw them in person, the color was great.

101 works presents the history of the Congo as a series of paintings, like snapshots. MURRILAND! depicts the Rainbow Serpent, the arrival of British colonists, and the Grim Reaper. It challenges the very idea of ​​history painting. what has 101 works Teach you about the history of painting?

That was the big struggle for me to see Tshibumba’s work and see all his small canvases. He was imprisoned and I have all these materials at my disposal. Many of the works he painted were created on sacks of flour.

My first idea was to create a timeline of Queensland history. Our ancestral spirit is the rainbow serpent, which is common to many different nations, not just the Aborigines. The Chinese dragon is an ancestral spirit, in the Christian religion the snake sits in the tree. For me that was the beginning of our cosmology, our understanding of the world.

History is determined by the invading culture. You keep the assignment. There were tapes and tapes of interviews between Johannes and Tshibumba. It was anthropological evidence. My work is so open to interpretation that viewers can read anything into it. Murriland! #1 presents 15 different historical and cultural scenarios. [In 1606] the dutch ship, the duyfken [landed on] the Cape York Peninsula and the traditional mob there drove out the foreign invader. A hundred years later, Captain Cook gave the peninsula a name, taped a piece of rag to an island, and claimed the east coast of Australia. Queens Land is England, hence the name of the whole project MURRILAND! There is no chronological order. I look at a situation and don’t let historical facts prevent me from getting a good picture and telling my own version of those stories. Tshibumba tried to stay true to what was happening.

Kanda-Matulu was self-taught and painted in a deliberately naïve style. As is well known, her pictures play with the English language and refer to comics. Murriland! #2 shows the Murri freedom fighter Dundalli, whom you call a Terraist. Why are you borrowing from popular culture?

we live now This is our time. People know where they were and when [Princess] Diana has passed away. People know where they were when the tsunami happened. They are big events. They enter the psyche of the culture. One of the reasons I borrow from pop culture is that relevance and familiarity. It seduces [viewers]related to these things.

The name of my show is A MURRIALITY. Murrality is an example of a Murri person’s reality. I can’t represent my mob or anyone. [But] There are works related to Donald Trump and the war in Ukraine. There are jobs related to housing because there is no affordable housing. I also comment on “hoogah-boogah”ism. One of the main posters is a text that says something that you want our spirituality but not our political reality. It’s a way of keeping us in a time capsule. In a way it’s a connection to what I’ve already done.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 6, 2022 as “Gordon Hookey.”

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