Cross Pose: Body language against the grain / Exhibitions

Artworks ‘pose’ questions about Australian identity

Currently showing on the upper level at UQ Art Museum, Cross Pose: Body language against the grain brings together Australian artworks from The University of Queensland Art Collection that draw on visual languages of the body to question and challenge thinking. Senior Lecturer in Art History at UQ and exhibition curator Dr Sally Butler said the artworks question our notion of Australian identity, the way Aboriginal people in the past have been categorised as ‘primitive’, and ideas about who or what authenticates a person’s identity. We talked to Sally about her experience curating this exhibition including the highlights and surprises along the way.

Dr Sally Butler, Darren Siwes and Professor Roland Bleiker, UQ School of Political Science and International Reltaions

Dr Sally Butler, Darren Siwes and Professor Roland Bleiker, UQ School of Political Science and International Reltaions Photo: Dione Pettingil

Q: Why is this an important exhibition and a good one for students to come and see?
A: The exhibition considers how political thinking is influenced by the visual senses – it has been called ‘Sensible Politics’. Artists manipulate the human body in these artworks to make political statements about race relations and power relations. We can extend these artistic insights into body language in everyday life. What kind of decisions do we make about people based on their body language, and what kind of political statements do we make based on our own body language? Artworks in this exhibition help us to consider these issues.

Q: Is there a particular work in the exhibition that resonates with you and why?
A: Richard Bell’s video work titled Uz vs Them 2006 was the first artwork I thought of after deciding to take Darren Siwes’s Cross Pose work (Marrkidj Wurd-ko (Cross Pose) Group 2011) as a point of departure for a show. Bell’s work uses humour to make some fairly confronting political gestures about race relations. He uses ‘role playing’ in this artwork that enacts a boxing match and ideas about celebrity and heroes. I think Bell’s film work is some of the best form of visual politics that comes out of Australia, and visual politics is what this exhibition is all about.

Q: Did any of the artworks surprise you when you saw them in the flesh compared to how they appeared in the online catalogue?
A: The visual presence of Alick Tipoti’s large-scale image of Zugubal spiritual ancestor (Kuyku Garpathamai Mabaig 2007) is quite different to the image in the catalogue. It’s an image about power and this really comes through in the scale of the image and the suggestion of a warrior. In fact, the scale of most of the artworks in this exhibition gives it a special presence, where you feel that you are surrounded by strong personalities who have an important message they want to communicate. The show does have a ‘wow’ factor from that perspective.

Q: Were there any other surprises as you curated the exhibition?
A: I always like the way artworks surprise you when you curate a show. When you place artworks next to one another they start up a visual dialogue. For instance, the white faces in the 19th century Robert Dowling work (Werrat Kuyuut and the Mopor people, Spring Creek, Victoria 1856) looked across the exhibition space at Tony Albert’s whitened figure in austrALIEN 2007. In a way, Albert’s work seemed to become a contemporary reading of the earlier image, drawing attention to a cultural tradition that is still relevant today.

Cross Pose: Body language against the grain runs until 9 August. Check out the online catalogue here

Our Cross Pose exhibition celebrates this year’s NAIDOC theme ‘We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate’, which highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ strong spiritual and cultural connection to land and sea.

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