About the Artwork
The work of Richard Bell tackles the position of Aboriginal art and artists within the contemporary art world, directly criticising its appropriation by non-Aboriginal artists and its domination by white curators, critics, academics, dealers and collectors. Combining political bite and caustic humour, Bell’s works argue for greater Aboriginal control over Aboriginal art, and by extension, Aboriginal culture within Australian society.
The use of language and text is a regular strategy for artists addressing political ideas in their work, and one that Bell embraces. Bell’s four-panel work Worth Exploring? challenges the position of Aboriginal art and artists inside the art system, linking it to the historical legal status of European colonisation. With his trademark directness and humour, Bell uses a combination of painting and legal documents to raise complex questions of artistic authenticity, appropriation and reception, as part of a broad debate on Australian race relations.
Uz vs Them stages a highly stylised physical and verbal sparring match between two men—one of whom is portrayed by the artist. The men’s dialogue is based on their opposing intellectual positions and political declarations.
Christine Morrow (curator), MCA Collection: New Acquisitions 2008 (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008
This artwork examines and challenges existing socio-political power structures. Depicting a cool, calm, collected Black man against an angry white villain, it presents no apparent winner.
Richard Bell, 2007
– About the artist
Richard Bell was born in 1953 in Charleville, Queensland, and is a member of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities.
Based in Brisbane, Richard has held numerous solo exhibitions since 1990. He is represented in major collections in Australia and New Zealand and is internationally recognised through numerous exhibitions, including the significant European touring exhibition Aratjara: art of the First Australians (1993); Culture Warriors, the National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia (2007); the 9th and 16th Biennales of Sydney (1992 and 2008); Australian Perspecta (1993), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, the Unfamiliar Territory, Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art (1991) and Half-Light: Portraits from Black Australia at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
His work was the subject of the survey exhibition Positivity, presented by the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, (2006). He won the National Telstra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2003. In 2009, an exhibition of the Bell’s practice to date entitled I am not sorry, was held at Location One, New York, and he was also the recipient of Location One’s International Fellowship for that year. Uz vs. them, a major touring exhibition of Bell’s work organised by the American Federation of the Arts, premiered at Tufts University, Boston, in September 2011, and will tour to venues across North America throughout 2013. The exhibition is accompanied by a major new publication on Bell’s work.
Richard Bell’s work features in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, as well as most state institutions. He is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane.