Museum of Brisbane

Sunday Stories | Voice in Action

Brisbane’s socio-political climate in the late 1980’s proved fertile ground to enact change, prompting demonstrations, street art and political performances of dance and theatre. Visual artists began creating work which reclaimed both Aboriginal and western imagery as a means of asserting their identities and experiences, confronting stereotypes and challenging the status-quo.

Strong cross-cultural influences ran throughout this movement, with artists from Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds coming together socially and artistically. These collaborations helped dissolve perceived boundaries and amplify the widespread call for social change.

While artists and arts collectives including ProppaNOW and Campfire Group forged a global conversation which continues today, they have also played an active role in defining Brisbane. Artwork relating to contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues continues to prompt the re-evaluation of local histories, perceptions of identities, and how we see ourselves and each other.

In the work Still…, Richard Bell a founding member of Campfire Group and ProppaNow uses humour to challenge romanticised notions of Aboriginal art, with the background of the workresembling a collage of stylised motifs from traditional Aboriginal painting.  The ambiguous text, We Have To Share, conjures ideas of land rights, sovereignty and continued inequalities stemming from colonialism.

Richard Bell (b. 1953) lives and works in Brisbane, Australia, and is a member of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities. He works across a variety of media including painting, installation, performance and video. One of Australia’s most significant artists, Bell’s work explores the complex artistic and political problems of Western, colonial and Indigenous art production. He grew out of a generation of Aboriginal activists and has remained committed to the politics of Aboriginal emancipation and self-determination. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Telstra National Aboriginal Art Award, establishing him as an important Australian artistic figure. Bell is represented in most major National and State collections, and has exhibited in a number of solo exhibitions at important institutions in Australia, Europe and America.

Image: Richard Bell, Still… 2017, acrylic on canvas, Museum of Brisbane Collection.