I recently left my Melbourne representation, Gallerysmith, when I realised the gallery had begun representing Lucas Grogan, a white artist whose work has appropriated Indigenous Australian art, depicted black figures often in misogynistic scenes involving alcohol and sex, and otherwise traded on the exotification of ‘the other’. I don’t believe his work ‘raises an interesting debate’ and am offended by justifications of it ‘expressing a universal humanity’ and ‘creating dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous art’ (quotes from his supporters) as I don’t believe that is a role for a non-Indigenous artist to undertake.
As a non-Indigenous person myself, it isn’t my voice in this ‘interesting debate’ that should be prioritised either. Paola Balla has written succinctly on the subject in her correspondence with Gallerysmith. If people want to contemplate artists who discuss contemporary Aboriginality, which I feel is what Grogan’s work falsely alludes to via appropriation (regardless of his supposed intentions), then they could look to Balla’s work, or that of proppanow’s Tony Albert, Richard Bell, Vernon Ah Kee, Gordon Hookey, Laurie Nilsen, Megan Cope and that of many other Indigenous artists speaking from their own experiences.
Cultural appropriation is not a new or personally ‘interesting’ phenomenon. White artists adopting the expressions of people of colour have historically held greater cultural currency than those made my people from the cultures the white artists appropriated. It should be obvious how colonialism, racism and other dynamics of privilege have informed that history. Yet artists such as Grogan (and he is definitely not alone in appropriation and exotification) feel entitled to pillage the forms and aesthetics of as many ‘other’ cultures as they please and are then celebrated by many for their ‘edginess’.
If you are a non-Indigenous person and consider the work of Lucas Grogan to ‘raise an interesting debate’ or to be ‘bravely’ ‘pushing the limits of what is socially acceptable’ (Grogan’s words) then perhaps you could consider what privileges you may have to find it interesting rather than offensive. Perhaps, if you consider yourself anti-racist, you could try de-prioritising your voice and Grogan’s intentions in what should be a discussion centred on Indigenous opinions and experiences.
I am a non-Indigenous person of colour, I am not culturally connected to the various forms he has appropriated (though as he continues to adopt the forms of additional cultures, he might get around to my own heritage soon) yet his work reminds me of my own position as exotic ‘other’ and how, in the art world and beyond, otherness is commodified and otherwise exploited by those with privilege and power. Though I am grateful for my ongoing presence in the art world, that reminder is a depressing and depleting one. I could not continue to show my work, which often discusses race and cultural identity from my position of lived racialised experience, at a gallery that has chosen to represent an artist who, already benefiting from systems of colonialism, racism and patriarchy as a white man, further exploits his position through his art.
Regardless of whether or not Grogan’s work of the moment claims to directly appropriate specific Indigenous art styles, he has tried to build a career trading on controversy over this appropriation. His work is built on this association with (false) Aboriginality and it would be refreshing if galleries, artists, and others in the art industry and beyond would recognise the racist implications of supporting him. Perhaps you could show that you do not support him nor those in the industry that support him via correspondence to the various galleries that have chosen to represent him.
Jan Manton Art, Brisbane
Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide
Rather than further investigate Grogan’s art, why not pay (more) attention to those culturally connected to the styles he has appropriated, and to proppanow; Tony Albert, Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, and many other Indigenous artists speaking from their own experiences. And read Paola Balla’s correspondence with Gallerysmith.
Please do not contact me personally via email nor via fan page to defensively discuss Grogan’s work. Instead I recommend reading through this online resource of links discussing racism and how it links to cultural appropriation.
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