If Santiago Sierra had determined to go to Charlottesville, Virginia, and imbue the Stars and Stripes with Native American or African American blood, he would have had essentially the most explosive work on the earth. In the USA, the flag is a sacred talisman for nationalist teams, together with all types of extremists. Can we start to think about the Trumpian response to such a play?
In Hobart, as the newest iconoclastic artwork occasion sponsored by Museum of Previous and New Artwork founder David Walsh for his Darkish Mofo pageant, Sierra’s Union Flag will see it British flag drenched within the blood of First Nations peoples colonized territories. It’ll all the time pack a punch – Inventive Director Leigh Carmichael mentioned on Monday afternoon that the pageant understood and revered “the numerous various viewpoints related to this confronting challenge” – nevertheless it faucets into a special pool of public sentiment .
The flag is a fetish in most nations, however will Australians really feel simply outrage on the sight of the Union Jack being smeared? Sierra’s room appears to be like like a shot via the arches within the identify of native republicanism. Regardless of the presence of the Union Jack within the higher left nook of our personal flag, for a lot of Australians that is an undesirable intrusion.
There might even be a cathartic side to watching the logo of Nice Britain dipped in a vat of native blood. This offers the reassuring, albeit false, impression that the indignities inflicted on First Nations peoples within the identify of Western civilization have been perpetrated by the Motherland and never by us. In a post-Freudian world, it is so tempting guilty all of it on an sad childhood. If we participated within the unusual bloodbath and the act of dispossession, it was due to the way in which we have been introduced up, is not it Physician?
Then again, there are many white Australians, together with virtually anybody who attends modern artwork exhibitions, who would see Sierra’s work as a good commentary on the ravages of colonial historical past. The tradition wars that raged so fiercely within the Howard period appear to have given solution to a quiet consensus that colonial occupation was not precisely a very good factor for Indigenous Australians, particularly in Tasmania, the place locals natives have been hunted down, coaxed into submission, taken from the mainland, and left to sink into the depths of distress and alienation.
If there’s a time when Union Flag will entice anger, it’s in using blood donated by First Nations folks – Darkish Mofo has opened “expressions of curiosity»To these of nations and territories colonized by the British Empire. Blood is among the most emotionally charged cultural symbols. Prior to now, we have now talked about blood and race as if these phrases have been used interchangeably, however as we now know, all human beings share the identical vary of blood teams. Blood shouldn’t be one thing that distinguishes one race from one other, it’s one thing that unites us, no matter creed or shade.
When blood seems in artwork, historical past or literature, it’s virtually all the time related to violence. There may be discuss of “blood soaked” episodes in historical past. In Exodus, God turns the Nile right into a river of blood to persuade Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery. In 1968, British politician Enoch Powell gave his notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, which known as on Virgil to warn of the hazards of uncontrolled immigration.
Sierra describes Union Flag as “a recognition of the ache and destruction that colonialism has brought on to First Nations peoples, devastating total cultures and civilizations.” In brief, it’s a gesture: a darkish, morbid and forbidding reminder of the numerous brutalities inflicted by one group of individuals on one other over a number of hundred years. Sierra is tearing aside an outdated wound that has barely healed, conjuring up ghosts many would moderately see left alone.
Will it’s controversial? I am positive Walsh hopes so, however he is been disillusioned previously by how essentially the most troublesome and confronting works are so simply accepted by an viewers keen – virtually too impatient – to be challenged. Union Flag poses the largest drawback for individuals who understand solely a one-sided insult to Australia’s British heritage. He unabashedly focuses on the negatives of this heritage, not the positives. For these in energy, it will be extra sensible if artwork was merely a celebration that permits all issues to go away.
John McDonald is an artwork critic and common columnist with Good Weekend.