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“One placard in a picket line of urban Indigenous activism”

Redfern artist, Adam Hill, has been creating storms of controversy in his latest exhibition held in Melbourne. Entitled, This is Why We Don’t Stand for the National Anthem, the show features a provocative image of an Aboriginal boy kneeling before a white priest with cruciform phallus reports Kate Lamb in the South Sydney Herald of December 2008.

The image, entitled, ‘Altered Boys’, draws attention to the issue of Indigenous sexual abuse by representatives of the church. Hill denies he intended to attack any particular religious denomination in the painting. For him the artwork is symbolic of a broader criticism of Aboriginal dispossession, white ignorance and xenophobia.

The exhibition held at Arc One Gallery in Melbourne, was opened by Julian Burnside QC, and Uncle Larry Walsh, a Taunarong Elder. According to Hill, Arc One Gallery was initially reluctant to hang the ‘Altered Boys’ piece due to its controversial depiction of sexual abuse.  Melissa Amore, manager of Arc One Gallery, said the dialogue surrounding the image was standard procedure and helped strengthen the gallery’s understanding of Hill’s relationship to the challenging subject matter. “These stories need to be told and retold, until alterations in viewpoints occur. The truth is confronting,” said Amore.

Hill’s paintings are deliberately confrontational. His art pushes to the fore uncomfortable truths about Indigenous issues of social justice and inequality. For the artist, the corporeal shock experienced by people viewing his work offers only a glimpse of Aboriginal injustice. Hill explains: “I’m trying to give people a taste of the shock and horror that our people suffered as a result of colonisation. I want to expose how blind white material society can be in terms of understanding our history.”

The exhibition showcases Hill’s signature bold urban style. His subversive use of Australian icons, songlines and signature flat-lined clouds, he says, serve as metaphors for injustices traversing religion, sport and mainstream society. The clouds, for example, that feature in all his paintings, represent the “Westminster system and religion that cast an ominous shadow on the landscape.”

From his studio in Redfern, Adam is busy working on his latest canvas. His art, he humbly admits, is “just one placard in a picket line of urban Indigenous activism”.

“The least I can do,” he says, “is push the harsh message onto a canvas and get it out there.”

The work, ‘Altered Boys’, is not shown here due to its depiction of sexual abuse. In agreement with Arc One Gallery which notifies viewers of “adult” content, the SSH, while regarding this work of artistic and social significance/importance, regards it inappropriate for general viewing (especially in the case of children).

Photo: Alex Mackenzie - Adam Hill in his Redfern studio

Source: South Sydney Herald December 2008