Please note, this story contains reference to someone who has died.
The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is honouring the art and legacy of globally renowned contemporary artist Gordon Bennett (1955-2014), with maternal connections to the Birri Gubba and Darambal people.
The showcase Unfinished Business – The Art of Gordon Bennett will exhibit his most poignantly raw and evocative series yet, some of which have never been seen before.
His works delves into the heart of a postcolonial world, challenging westernised and Eurocentric historical narratives of colonialism.
Bennett’s legacy remains as relevant now as it was in the 1980s, as he teases out the intricacies of sovereignty and citizenship.
His works question ‘established’ fields of knowledge, racial violence, social and cultural inequities.
The catalyst for Bennett’s thought-provoking artistry arose from the unveiling of his family heritage during his teenage years.
It was only when Bennett was a teenager that he would learn his mother, Grace, a descendant of the Birri Gubba and Darambal people; had been forced to spend her childhood at the Cherbourg Aboriginal Mission.
The unveiling of his Aboriginality during the 1960s, echoed the all too common experience many have had in first-handedly experiencing disruption from culture due to Australia’s historically racist ‘protection and assimilation’ policies.
The discovery of his identity during this era was significant, particularly as it came on the back of Indigenous Australians being granted the right to vote.
Bennett’s work powerfully speaks to this part of Australia’s history, and directly questions the way in which Aboriginal and Indigenous people globally are positioned in society.
Despite being considered amongst one of Australia’s most influential contemporary artists, Bennett only commenced study at Brisbane’s Queensland College of Art at the age of 30.
Simon Wright, Assistant Director at GOMA and close friend of Bennett’s, said when he first arrived on the art scene in the 1980s it was “all of the sort of white heroes of Australia”.
“[Bennett] was … really frustrated that when he sort of arrived on the scene he was being judged by … old-fashioned ideas and … boring discussions about what an Aboriginal artist should be,” Wright said.
“[He would be] in the middle of interviews having to try and educate someone on 200 years of postcolonial settlement.”
Wright said Bennett’s identity and artistic expression were heavily criticised by many non-Indigenous reviewers.
Enduring these mindsets, where one is having to justify their Aboriginality and meaningful representations of culture, continues to be just as prevalent today.
Even in the midst of NAIDOC Week, the Federal Government voted against a motion to fly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Senate Chamber.
Lead Curator of the exhibition, Zara Stanhope, Curatorial Manager of Asian and Pacific Art said, this reaffirms the need for Bennett’s work.
“The importance of questioning the systems we operate through and with are intrinsic to Bennett’s work,” she said.
“His art was really talking to society about its own systems, and structures; and the way that they impact on reality.
Stanhope said Bennett was asking viewers to “reflect on what they see, and how they are thinking about aspects of the world”.
Unfinished Business – The Art of Gordon Bennett exhibition is on now until March 21, 2021.
By Rachel Stringfellow