08 Sep Damien Shen | Divine Interventions @ Nexus Arts in collaboration with BadiucaoNexus Arts from 8 September - 11 November 2016 as part of the Adelaide Festival Centre’s OzAsia Festival 2016. Curated by Coby Edgar.
Politicians in Australia range from intelligent to rather idiotic. Having the latter as representatives of Australian culture is an embarrassment on the world platform. With an Australian election it is risk assessment and management for a lot of Australians, especially the younger generations and recent migrants who are not as used to the ins-and-outs of the political arena. For a lot of people it is really about picking the best of the worst.
The Chinese word ‘Gweilo’ historically was a demeaning term used to describe westerners. More recently it is known to be used in an affectionate manner. The language has changed, but there are still people old enough to connect it with its derogatory meaning and people young enough to use it with affection. Gweilo literally translates to ‘ghost man’ and is sometimes translated into English as ‘foreign devil’.
The performative aspect to the show is a physical manifestation of the angst and confusion that the artists feel when trying to navigate the complexities of the Australian political mindset and intentions. The images feature politicians who at some point in their careers have said grotesque statements that are racist, misogynistic, homophobic or have been clumsy in their wording when navigating sensitive topics. The energy and the action of painting red the term Gweilo also connects back to Aboriginal perceptions of first contact when it was a perception that Anglo settlers were ghosts. ‘Ghost men’ from another place proved to have some strong truths for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They sometimes fail to consolidate representing the diversity that makes up Australia culture and at times it is at the most crucial and emotionally charged moments.
To have a recent Chinese exile, who is now an Australian citizen deface the painted portraits of his new political leaders, wearing the Don Dale Detention Centre mask, made out of a Darwin Festival tote bag in communist red paint is an action as loaded as the cutting of a passport. The Don Dale scandal which showed youth being strapped to chairs and blindfolded, amongst other unsettling actions, was a recent event that created a discourse amongst many Australians. For Shen to allow his work to be destroyed in such a fashion is also telling of the friendship and respect that has developed for Badiucao. Shen asked Badiucao to carry out this performative aspect with him, he wanted Badiucao to have an influence on his work and his views. Through the destruction there will emerge a new meaning for the works and create a sense of release for the artists.
From communist China to, racist, sexist Australia the views held by these two artists tell a sad story that is lined with energy to create change within their communities. Australia appears to be a lucky country to the rest of the world but underneath the veneer of opulence and freedom it still can’t consolidate the damages to their First Nations people with youth suicide rates through the roof, national publications publishing racist stereotypes, incarceration rates through the roof, deaths in custody at staggering rates and the forced closure of remote communities. Australia truly is a wonderful country, one that citizens should be proud to call home and ones that refugees will sincerely call a lucky country but Badiucao isn’t an artist because he wants to create aesthetically pleasing work, and Shen isn’t an artist because it’s a good way to make a dollar. The cultural exchanges the artists had were primarily positive, the work they created is about what change they would like to bring about.
Coby Edgar, Curator, 2016