Arcanum (Extracts from the Archives)

Exhibition review Union Gallery Adelaide University South Australia 19 August - 4 September 1992

You had to see it to believe it, and even then I didn't believe it!
It may be romantic to look at black and white in Australia by portraying Aboriginal people as being socially and professionally accepted in colonial Australia's society, but that's what these black and white photos were showing. In one of the photos there was an Aboriginal aviator and in another an Aboriginal man as one of the boys dressed in their daring backless swimmers at Bondi Beach. This is Australia's history, according to these old black and white photos. Well, let me tell you it is a Cruickshank prank!

Alan Cruickshank has scanned photos of Aboriginal faces taken from some of C.P. Mountford's publications onto a computer then, using characteristic photos of the early 1990s of white Australia, replaced white faces with black faces. So technology is taken to another extreme. After viewing this exhibition you will think twice if you are to use photographs as evidence.

The reason behind this deception is that Alan is fully aware of Australia's shameful history of the destruction of Aboriginal people's culture and traditions. So rightly he decided on a 'tongue-in-cheek' poke at Australian history, for this history certainly doesn't tell the truth. Just ask your local Aboriginal community about the oral history.

In true Australian history, Aboriginal people at the turn of the century were being swept under the carpet systematically and in the most inhumane way. This was going on since 1788. Aboriginal people were used as slave labour, pushed or herded onto wastelands transformed into missions or reserves or even shot. Today there are literally thousands of unmarked graves from the massacres that span this blood-stained country of ours.

We have come a long way, you may argue, since then, or have we? In 1967 (I was eight years old) Aboriginal people were granted citizenship of Australia by referendum. We now have equal opportunities and voting rights. Yet even today Australian history being taught in schools stands to be corrected nationwide. Where do they teach about the Aboriginal Anzacs who died for Australia at Gallipoli during World War I ? What happened to the surviving Aboriginal men when they returned - shoved back on the missions and reserves of course, but that is another story.

Alan Cruickshank wanted to prick the Australian conscience and in this exhibition he has achieved this in reference to especially Australian history. Technically the exhibition 'Arcanum' displays yet another achievement of man and machines in an artistic manner. In regard to fellow human relations this exhibition fails badly in preparation. I guess it is going to take maybe another 200 years before people realise that using old photographs of deceased Aboriginal people is very distressing for some Aboriginal communities. Then, to put the icing on the cake, having their bodies rearranged without any sensitivity towards Aboriginal people's beliefs or feelings, with not even an attempt to seek advice. Is this yet another example of blundering, true blue 'Aussie' style at the expense of Aboriginal people only this time using the avenue of a new use of imagery?

I ask you "Are Aboriginal people not human also?"

How often do we take photos for granted? How often do we take people for granted? Is Australia going to teach the true history of the invasion of Australia or live a lie?
Beats the hell out of me because I'm already "in the black"!

Reviewed by Kerry Giles

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