Friday, July 23, 2010

Adam Hill: Caste-ing Call

Half-caste ten in the morning
2010 synthetic polymer and eucalypt leaves on Aust. made cotton canvas
165 x 200

image courtesy of Harrison Galleries

Adam Hill paints with incendiary bravado; a sharp palette of vivid colour, bold graphic lines and furious symbolism. Caste-ing Call, his current exhibition at Harrison Galleries, takes aim at the cultural hegemony imposed on black Australia. A brilliant exhibition rich with political message, Hill depicts how white Australia engages with black, how it voraciously seeks Aboriginal minerals, women, spirituality, cultural control and at what cost and consequence.

Caste-ing Call features seventeen paintings. Half-caste 10 in the morning depicts an Aboriginal woman striding through desert dust in stilettos, long black hair, huge breasts barely covered by a taut bikini, smiling sensuously. She holds up a placard with number 10 in white letters, which Hill says refers to the movie 10 staring Bo Derek. In letters painted in reverse an ad reads,’Wanted Extras Stereotypically Half Caste Classic White Teeth Characteristic Skinny Legs Broadish Nose’.

The advertisment lists the Australian film industry's obligatory features for an Aboriginal extra. Through this prism an Aboriginal women must climb in order to be given a part, one can only read the ad correctly in a mirror because through this reflection we see what we want to.

This exhibition exposes and debunks commonly held cultural stereotypes that are routinuely bandied about ignorantly. What is an Aboriginal? Where and how is a 'half-caste placed in a heirachy of racial identity? Popular notions of racial characterisitcs are exposed. As the painter recalls, ‘…my personal favourite…”oh yes…you DO have that type of forehead!”’.

The term ‘caste’ has tremendous load in Aboriginal parlance. It is still used as an insult in some communities and in others it is still a way of verifying identity. ‘Are you a half caste?’ - a question that demands a response, a clarification. Because if you don’t have the skinny legs, broadish nose, then what are you? The requirement to vouch for one’s cultural identification and demonstrate to which ‘half’ one still belongs is an odious tagging that occurs within boththe Aboriginal and non Aboriginal community. Caste is a term with eons of historic baggage and remains divisive and affronting.

He hasn't got a leg to stand on
2010 synethetic polymer on canvas
65 x 90cm

image courtesy of Harrison Galleries

In He Hasn’t Got a Leg to Stand On a one-legged man pulls a toy cart containing a small child and kangaroo. Cultural identity is divided into the ‘essentialist’ black man, the desert dwelling native and his ‘half caste’ progeny. The sign on the cart says Halfies Cart, Tried and Tested and the large letters around the one-legged man in classic ‘native’ pose says Hop in Hell, an ironic reference to the genetic load this man may one day carry.

Painted words and symbolism repeatedly feature in Hill’s powerful work. Frequently we see a scorched, fractured sun smouldering menacingly in a harsh blue sky, its nuclear fire matched by the fury in Hill’s paintings. Burning sun, wasted people, parched landscape, the dysfunctional icons of a bright land where racial tension smoulder and lie. Omnipresent seven clouds hover low in the sky, these are the artists depiction of the seven government states and territories that serve as an oppressive glass ceiling above Aboriginal people.

Wong Place Wong Time
2009 Synthetic polymer on canvas
150 x 250 cm

Image courtesy of Harrison Galleries

Far from being politically didactic and predicatable in left/right inclination, Hill takes aim at hypocrisy from wherever it flows. Wong Place at the Wong Time puts Penny Wong’s decisions as Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water as the cause for the parched landscape, dying lizards and denuded environment. Using sharp edged humour Mine over Matter illustrates a light haired Aboriginal man walking along with a carrot dangling from his spear. In the background a large sign is emblazoned with the words, “Your Future Is Mine’.

There is a vitality in Hill’s paintings that enlivens his sharp political discourse even when it hinges on bitter rage. He straddles the capacity to deliver a thunderous bolt of political discourse with a striking graphic style and humour. It is appealing even to those he critiques. He has exhibited his works in the most unlikely settings, the foyer of the AMP building in Circular Quay being one of the more corporate settings. His work is urban and reflects his strong interest and support of street art and graffiti.

Originally from Penrith in Sydney’s west, he now lives and works in Redfern, in Sydney’s inner city. Caste-ing Call is Adam Hill’s latest exhibition and well worth a visit; this artist has a penchant for provocation and a larrikin’s way with language, his paintings are rich with colour and the passion of a forceful message.

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