Mother Nature is a Lesbian: Political Printmaking in South Australia 1970s-1980s

Flinders University Art Museum,  10 May – 13 July 2014
Tooth and Nail Gallery, 16 May – 13 June 2014

May 1968 is well-known for the civil protests in France in which demonstrations by students and workers, and general strikes brought the country to a standstill. It is less well-known that in 1974 in Adelaide at Flinders University students occupied university buildings for a month. Indeed in the 1970s demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience were widespread across Australia. It was a time of global civil unrest partly in reaction to the war in Vietnam as political activism of all sorts rose against what was then called the military-industrial complex.

Printmaking on paper since its inception has always had a great dimension of democratisation as it can be cheap, fast and graphically vital. It was frequently used for political purposes in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and has recently experienced a resurgence. As they say – the power of the press belongs to those who control the press.

Accounts of political printmaking in Australia often focus on the Tin Sheds at Sydney University where Earthworks Poster Collective was started by Colin Little. It is less well circulated that Adelaide also had an active political protest art movement scene with WAM the Women's Art Movement, PAM the Progressive Art Movement, the Progressive Printers Alliance, the Unemployed Workers Union and of course AFPC, the Anarchist Feminist Poster Collective.

Two recent exhibitions Mother Nature is a Lesbian and Postered: Adelaide showed the past and the present of political screenprinting in Adelaide in a neatly planned coincidence. Celia Dottore, the curator of Mother Nature, told Jake Holmes and Joshua Searson of the Print Cult Collective, based at open access printmaking studio Tooth and Nail Studio in the heart of the city, what was happening and six months before the opening of Mother Nature they commissioned 48 local artists to make posters. While they did not ask for political posters a lot of the works turned out to be biting statements showing how alive and well resistance to the status quo is. Some are digital prints, some are woodcuts, some are linoprints, some are combinations. A few posters worth noting are Steve Wilson’s Corrections, listing all kinds of political bullshit and suggesting solidarity against it, Danni Harwood’s Culled about shark culling, Nick Yap’s Earth Army, Peter Drew’s Stop the Boats, and not least Joshua Searson’s Warpath and Jake Holmes’ Work More Get Less, each showing Tony Abbott in a critical light.

Mother Nature is a Lesbian drew on the Flinders University Art Museum collection and especially on their holdings of two exhibitions of political posters held at the Experimental Art Foundation Truth Rules ... OK? in 1983 and Truth Rules II in 1986 both co-curated by poet Ken Bolton and artist Christine Goodwin. Women’s liberation, unemployment, gay rights, Aboriginal land rights, the worker’s struggle, anti-nuclear, anti-war and anti-apartheid protests, exploitation of migrant workers are all issues dealt with impressively and imaginatively by Adelaide legends like Ann Newmarch, Jim Cane and Pamela Harris, as well as Mandy Martin, Robert Boynes, Mark Thomson, David Kerr, Greg Donovan, Kivubiro Tabawebbula, Byron Pickett, Kerry Kurwingie Giles and Andrew Hill among others. The linocut Prototype for Australian Consensus (1983) by Helen Printer of people sitting down to talk is especially outstanding in its scale and links to Chinese social realism.

At the opening of Mother Nature Ken Bolton, whose work was represented by a display of his silkscreened poetry book covers, spoke about the way the posters spanned the homes of anti-establishment Australia in the past and how the job they were made to do is an ongoing one. 'Their working lives are not over!'

Mother Nature is a poignant experience if you were there in the 1970s and even if you were not. The idealism, the hope, the rhetoric, the burning sense of justice whether making statements or advertising dances or demonstrations, are still relevant as demonstrated by the work shown in Postered: Adelaide. There is also great design, ingenuity, humour and energy present in the works in both shows. As for their effectiveness in engendering social change Dottore asks in her catalogue essay: 'how far have we come?’ Yet the social capital represented in all the posters shows the value of an active solidarity then and now. Just leaving a hankering for some oral history talking heads videos of the old growth forest folk before it is too late.

 

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