I was really pleased to open the wonderful exhibition Giving voice: the art of dissent, curated by Dr Yvonne Rees-Pagh at the Salamanca Arts Centre earlier this month. It is free! and open until September 14, so I urge you to get along if you can.
This exhibition couldn’t be more important or timely, showing the power of art to shine a light on aspects of our society we don’t always want to think about, and confronting us with issues of power, control and our own agency.
There are many extraordinary pieces of art from equally extraordinary artists in this exhibition.
Richard Bell’s works Kick Somebody Else and Scratch an Aussie, calling out racism in Australia, couldn’t be more timely as the Abbott Government outsources its Indigenous policy to mining billionaires like Twiggy Forest, who has demanded further institutionalisation of paternalism and control over Aboriginal Australians to tell them how to spend their own money and live on their own land.
James Barker’s two pieces on Gaza shine a light on the silence and complicity of our government, now on the United Nations Security Council, while UN shelters, schools and hospitals were bombed and thousands of innocent people in Gaza killed.
Michael Reed’s work calls out the connection between multinational corporations and big business driving their agendas through government policy and against the common good.
Here in Australia where this year’s aid budget was not only cut back, our foreign aid budget, but has been rolled into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and 25 percent of the remaining aid budget is now to be given to trade for aid. It is going to be given to multinational corporations to be able to hand out part of that aid money so they can say to communities if you give us the licence to access your resource, whether it’s minerals, whether it’s forests, we will give you money for a school or for a medical facility or for something else, but it is tied to trade. The work that Michael has over there: soaked bandages, blood- stained bandages, multinational business, and genocide, it is very powerful and it is an important statement to make.
Megan Keating’s work meditating on the ripping up of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement and associated destruction of forests producing pulp and smoke is timely while we have a state Liberal Government determined to not only open up all our forests for logging, but bringing in some of the most draconian and anti-democratic anti-protest laws in the country. Never has it been more important that we all take a stand in this state, and voice our dissent.
Pat Hoffie’s work highlights the role of spin doctors in the use of smoke and mirrors to distract us all from the real issues, the things that matter. It is the story of our shameful national policy on asylum seekers at one level, but it is also the story of the fog that the Australian community lives in and then is told what it means by the people who are spinning stories.
All these wonderful artists and their work say to us: this is the reality of life for people, this is our reality, and why voices of dissent are so necessary.
All point to the question: who has the power in our democracy? Peter Hay’s essay to accompany this exhibition picks up on this theme. Do we still live in a democracy? Who is actually calling the shots, where is the power embedded?
You get to the point as I have now come to believe, that we no longer do live in a democracy, but a plutocracy – a country governed by the wealthy for the wealthy.
So how do we come back from where we are? What I am asking from all of you if you get a chance to see this exhibition, or read this post, is to say: What am I going to do about it? How am I going to respond to the situation? We’ve already done it once in Tasmania, when Tasmania thought we would never get beyond Gunns running the state, and yet we did. Tasmanians took the state back. I think we now have to take our nation back. That is why I would encourage you to think as Schumacher has said, and this inspires me as we face up to a lot of these challenges:
We must do what we conceive to be the right thing and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether or not we’ll be successful. Because if we don’t do the right thing, we’ll be doing the wrong thing. We’ll be part of the disease, not part of the cure.
I congratulate all of the artists, Yvonne for curating this exhibition and Salamanca Arts Centre. Thank you for opening our eyes to the power of dissent and encouraging us to take it on.