About the Artwork
Gordon Bennett’s work Untitled (dismay, displace, disperse, dispirit, display, dismiss) (1989) uses word and image to explore notions of language as a tool with which the colonisers of Australia subjugated the country’s original inhabitants. When this work is installed at the MCA, near the site of the landing of the First Fleet, the work has an added significance. It confronts colonial stereotypes of representation through language and deals with the way in which language is used to categorise and interpret Indigenous people from a Western perspective.
English words with a ‘dis-’ prefix mean to reverse, undo, or to subject to the reversal or undoing of, the meaning of the word to which it is prefixed. It can thus refer to negation, opposition, separation, or deprivation. A conceptual relationship is therefore established between the method and the intention. The play of the prefix 'dis’ could be seen as a kind of poetry and can be related to its contemporary use such as in disrespecting someone.
1) Nicholas Zurbrugg, Visual Poetics: Concrete Poetry and its Contexts, Museum of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, 1989
Glenn Barkley (curator), Avoiding Myth and Message: Australian Artists and the Literary World, (exhibition texts), Museum of Contemporary Art, 2009; Keith Munro (curator), Bangu Yilbara, works from the MCA Collection, (exhibition texts), Museum of Contemporary Art, 2006
I wish to reinstate a sense of Aboriginal people within the Cuturally dominant system of representation as human beings, rather than a visual representation that signifies the ‘primitive’, the ‘noble savage’, or some other European construct associated with black skin.
Gordon Bennett, quoted in ‘Aesthetics and Iconography: An Artist’s approach’, in Aratjara: Art of the first Australians, Cologne, 1993, p 87
– About the artist
Born in 1955 in Monto, Queensland, Gordon Bennett lived and worked in Brisbane before his death in 2014. His bold and humane art challenged racial stereotypes and provoked critical reflection on Australia’s official history and national identity.
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