Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Knowing It When You See It, Part I UPDATE

I received an email from the collectors who had bought and then lent for exhibition the painting that a regional gallery in Australia covered with a curtain due to complaints from visitors (see here for story). The collectors have given me permission to include here their jpeg of the work. I've also included some text written about the artists by the gallery that covered it up due to pressure. Here's the piece that's caused the stir:

Ramona, Remika, Tennielle, and Vondean NOCKETTA (aka the Jirrawun Girls),
You Big Hole, 2006, Ochres and pigment with acrylic binder on Belgian linen, 4 panels, 120 x 120cm. See
Sherman Galleries website for more information.

Here's some background information about the artists:

The Jirrawun Girls are four sisters, Ramona Nockeyya aged 15, Remika Nocketta aged 17. Tennielle Nocketta 18 and Vondean Nocketta 21. They were born in Derby Hospital while their parents were living in Halls Creek. Their father, Major Clyde is a Gurindji man and nephew of Vincent Lingiari (one of the greatest Aboriginal leaders of all time, but best known for his historic photo with Gough Whitlam). Their mother Kitty Nockette is a Gija woman whose mother is the artist Nora Nocketta. Other close relatives are the extremely talented artists Phyllis Thomas, Peggy Patrick (her exhibition Blood on the Spinifex at the National Gallery of Victoria told of the Mistake Creek massacre of her forefathers) and Goody Barrett.

The Jirrawun Girls are named after the Jirrawun Arts centre, which was established to provide financial security and peace of mind to Aboriginal artists (who were often exploited by commercial galleries), so that they could simply live to paint.

The sisters lived in Halls Creek, Crocodile Hole, Warmun and Kununurra. They lived at Crocodile Hole when Jirrawun Arts was based there and attended Doon Doon School. Remika and Ramona currently attend the Barramundi Special School in Kununurra. Vondean has a two-year-old daughter, Leshante, and Teneille has a one-year-old, Alexandra. Vondean has been on the Homeswest waiting list for three years and will wait another two years for a state supplied house. They surive by living between family members and extended family members’houses. There is no stability, no home base. They are particularly vulnerable because of overcrowded housing.

Their painting Kununurra Midnight Prowl, similar to the one showing in Orange Regional Gallery, will be showing in an International exhibition in Belgrade, later this month. The exhibition, titled Art, Life and Confusion, was curated by the highly respected German curator Rene Block. The exhibition asks the question “what is the relationship between art and life with all its confusion today?” - the collapse of political systems, the dissolution of existing value systems, and the massive social changes brought about by globalisation, which are leading to an ever-greater sense of insecurity. Traditional structures are challenged, as confusion mounts as to which values and social orders are to hold valid for our coexistence with each other.

---Brenda Gray, Education Officer, Orange Regional Gallery

The collectors have noted that they wish to discuss what their response to the decision to cover the work (if any) should be with the artists themselves, and they make a very valid point about why this is problematic. From their email:

We don't (in a very large way) feel that it is up to us to decide how the situation should be handled, so we are contacting the artist today and we'll decide how best it should be handled.[...]The other thing that is annoying for us, is that the work is now being viewed out of the context of the exhibition and that it is ruining the exhibition for the other artists. [emphasis mine]
I have to say I was surprised at the ages of the artists. Learning that they're not having such an easy time in their early years, I began to wonder about what it means that their artistic expression of the reality they live is too harsh for some people. (Imagine if those same people were faced with that actual reality.)

This in turn brings me back to something I've always known was true. That there is no topic too taboo for art (i.e., there's no such thing as immoral art). If it reflects someone's reality, then it's merely well done or poorly done. The notion that art viewers need to be protected from the harher aspects of what other people, especially children, have to actually live suggests a twisted set of priorities to my mind.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating post, Ed. It is great that the collectors have opened up this dialogue - would love to hear more from them, the "Girls", and other artists in the show.

9/20/2006 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

We normally think of censorship as bad, but I think it can be good, if the censorship generates publicity.

Would we have ever heard of The Jirrawun Girls if it weren't for this incident? Now their work has a much wider audience than they ever could have dreamed of.

I'm going to save my money and hire a team of censors for my next exhibition. Anyone know where I can rent a nice curtain and some warning signs?

9/20/2006 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Rudy said...

Good idea David, but it's soooo been done already.

9/20/2006 01:45:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Ha, that's great! Maybe I'll just hire you and the GG's to come to my opening. Are you still mayor? I haven't been reading the news lately.

9/20/2006 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger onesock said...

That there is no topic too taboo for art (i.e., there's no such thing as immoral art).

I agree, but wondering if you have seen the movie "The Shape of Things"?

9/20/2006 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

wondering if you have seen the movie "The Shape of Things"?

No, I haven't. Is it related?

9/20/2006 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

EW, on the same subject, you might also want to check out the album Outside, a David Bowie/Brian Eno collaboration. Whether you like the music or not, it presents an interesting situation. It's set slightly in the future, and the main scenario is that a detective is investigating a series of "art murders."

I'm not saying that the album itself is taboo or immoral of course, but it posits a situation involving art that would be.

9/20/2006 02:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Ok did that painting really deserve all that attention??

It's not that I like every Basquiat either, mind you.

I am surprised about this thing, that collectors lend permission for the photographe of a work.

I don't think collectors should have a thing to say about this. It should be the artist or their representative. Always.

I once asked at Whitney about where to find a picture of a Frank Ackermann painting (or why the catalog was so bad), and they
told me the collectors didn't lend permission for the photograph to be in the catalog, or something atrocious like that.

I think artists should make as clear as possible that whatever they sell they have to rights to the photographs and I FIRMLY encourage them to SHOW THEM, because many private collectors mean we are not seeing the work often. Collector = no public showing. That's basically the way I perceive it, expect the worst case scenario.


Cedric Caspesyan

PS: Rene Block? are they showing Picnic At Hanging Rock next to it?

9/20/2006 10:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Wasn't Ripper about art?

I mean, the real guy?


9/20/2006 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


It was totally my decision to phrase the inclusion of the jpg the collectors sent me with the idea of "permission" attached, not theirs. Call it laziness on my part for implying a position they never took.


9/21/2006 07:58:00 AM  

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