“Being Polite” with Indigenous Australian history

By | November 22, 2015

Gordon Bennett’s “Be Polite” is one of the stimulating exhibitions currently on show at Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art. If you like political and controversial art that educates the public and forces you to think – this is for you! The aim of this exhibition is to help us understand the part of history related to violence against colonised Indigenous population in context of the part of history we may be more familiar with.

The exhibition comprises of a collection of 63 works on paper, most of which have never been seen before. Gordon Bennett takes us through the journey of Indigenous colonisation. Of course he issues of race and land ownership are always a hot topic in Australian art. This exhibition, however, stands out for me as a well organised personal account from a prolific member of aboriginal community.

The exhibition features works of various sizes, ranging from notebook pen sketches to full scale drawings and paintings. Drawing parallels between the atrocities of human behaviour then and now, it provokes questions about the frequent repetition of history in today’s culture. The focus on unpunished crimes reaches an intimate level with a confronting series of drawings in black, yellow and red is shown on a background of accounts of public opinions. The artist manages to combines humour with devastation, built on a background of challenged stereotypes. My personal favourite is the final piece, featuring a hand written note with scribbles, “Don’t look at me. I am not important art of anything like that.” Humility with an impact.

It is the freedom of expression that seems key in this exhibition. With a lot of pieces fitted into a relatively modestly sized space, this is a surprisingly clean and uncluttered exhibition. It allows the viewer to see the stages of not only the process of colonisation but also the stages of emotional reflections of the artist himself in reaction to this history of his people.

Gordon Bennett’s definition of freedom (which you will see as you begin your walk through the exhibition halls) for me sums up this collection beautifully, giving us this unique experience into a private world:

“Freedom is a practice. It is a way of thinking in other ways to those we have become accustomed to.” (from The Manifest Toe, 1996)

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Exhibition is at IMA, Brisbane, until 20th December 2015  (contains explicit sexual imagery)

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