The only curatorial premise for this show was artistic and cultural exchange. Throughout the first couple of meetings the artists Damien Shen and Badiucao discussed their previous works, their family and cultural similarities and differences. We shared many meals together and discussed what it was they wanted to say about their lives and their experiences together. This is the first time that Badiucao had worked with an Aboriginal artist and curator. It is also the first project with a Chinese artist that Damien and myself have worked on. We had to learn from scratch, what it meant for Badiucao to move to Australia to leave his mother country, what it felt like for him to here knowing the treatment of Australia’s First Nations historically and contemporarily, what he wanted from his life and what he has to leave behind in China. Badiucao had to be very patient, teaching us about the Chinese government systems, the extent of the influence of government and what that meant to his own family and his artistic freedom of expression. Connecting that back to how it feels to have Aboriginal or Chinese heritage in this country, the stories of shared hardship, loss of identity, the powerlessness in the very limited understanding of the ongoing consequences of political, cultural and spiritual interventions that still has a strong hold on our communities and our minds was a middle ground that the artists quickly found. The product is this, a collection of works that are about lack of understanding, or lack of feeling understood. About the people who represent our country and our people and how they have and continue to fail us, try different approaches and sometime succeed in making policies more effective and other times, make it worse. It started as a cultural and artistic exchange and the product is a political and rather emotional ode to injustice. Shen and Badiucao could have painted pretty pictures but instead they wanted to be heard. Although the work is visually pleasing, they have very complex emotions behind them. This collaboration is the result of the artists’ life experiences of government, it is a personal response. It became evident that they both believed that although our government does create a country that we are safe in and there is much good to sing praise, people are progressing quicker than the government that represents us.
- Coby Edgar, Curator
Team Gweilo, 2016 Ink on paper
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.
If You Are The One 非诚勿扰 , 2016, Oil on plastic board
The title is a play on a popular Chinese TV dating game show where a male candidate will talk about his life, career and love and women will choose and compete for a date with the bachelor or opt out of the game all together. It is comment on the fact that there is no choice in China, you don’t get the same rights and the government that you live under is not a choice. As a new Australian citizen and recent exile from China, Badiucao simply juxtaposes the image of Xi Jinping on the five main political posters from our most recent election.
Xi Jinping is extremely powerful and everyday there are stories of corruption and deceit, people being kidnapped, arrested forced into propaganda system that spreads well beyond the borders of China. Badiucao wears a mask to all of his openings, performances and talks while using a pseudo name to protect him from being persecuted for his views. The mental control that he has over Chinese people is extreme and deep in the psyche of Chinese people all over the world. A simple reaction to the work produced by Damien and a reaction to the first time Badiucao voted as an Australian citizen with varied and complex social and mental strain that is held by the Badiucao.
Why Do They Buy Out Our Baby Formula 给你一个说法 , 2016 Baby formula, aerosol paint
Domestic baby formula is not trusted in China because of its horrible reputation since 2008, possibly earlier. It is killing children and Chinese peoples’ trust in their social system. Australian shops have recently put a cap on the amount of baby formula that people can purchase because people keep buying out the formula and sending it to China so that families can feed their children formula that won’t poison them. It is a food safety crisis, there are babies dying. By stenciling the faces of some of the children who have perished after consuming the tainted baby formula, it is simply giving the victims a face again, re-humanising them. Stenciled onto rubbish bin liners in baby formula, the faces of children who have perished become forgotten as the formula slowly distorts as wind blows their faces unrecognisable. This ephemeral installation outlines the disposability of life and how our global economy can cause ethnic dilemmas that stretch worldwide.
Cancelled 别时容易, 2016, Found objects
After becoming an Australian citizen, Badiucao was asked to send his Chinese passport to the Chinese embassy in Canberra for reviewing. It was returned with several pages cut at the top right hand side of the pages, making his passport useless, it had been cancelled. This act is common, it isn’t possible to hold dual citizenship therefore, becoming an Australian citizen immediately meant that he had to say goodbye to China.
A passport is an internationally recognised document stating your identity. To make it exempt, destroy it, is to destroy part of the holders identity. It is a demeaning act that has caused psychological trauma for many Chinese migrants. To further emphasise this Badiucao has taken objects that he believes are closely related to his life and habits in China and has cut them in the same fashion as his passport highlighting the obscure and ongoing internal conflict a new Chinese Australian citizen must go through once their connections with China have been cut. He could possibly be in physical danger if he ever does return to China.
Divine Interventions is at Nexus Arts from September 8 — November 2016