Richard Bell
Land Rights Now

For Richard Bell, art is not simply a vehicle through which to represent and convey political content. On one hand, art itself has an activist charge—in its very form and presence it can shake up conventional or assumed understandings, opinions, and behaviours. But on the other hand, it is deeply implicated in the actions and attitudes associated with colonialism in Australia and abroad. Land Rights Now depicts a protest scene in Bell’s hallmark bright color scheme and stylistic graphic figuration. The obscured faces of the congregated activists are contrasted by the provocative phrases, such as “Do The Right Thing” featured on their signs. The work has a sharp political edge that extends his life-long commitment to Aboriginal social justice, land rights, and sovereignty, often through a powerful critique of the legacy of European invasion. Like many of Bell’s paintings, this work draws openly on a range of art-historical sources, from colonial landscape painting, pop art, and abstract expressionism, to Aboriginal painting from Central and Western Australia. These acts of prolific appropriation serve a double purpose. They suggest the global network of exchange and influence to which Bell belongs, while also directly countering any belief that ‘authentic’ Aboriginal art can be identified through reference to singular stylistic characteristics or cultural content.

Richard Bell works across a variety of media including painting, installation, performance and video and text to pose provocative, complex, and humorous challenges to our preconceived ideas of Aboriginal art, as well as addressing contemporary debates around identity, place, and politics. One of Australia’s most significant artists, Bell’s work explores the complex artistic and political problems of Western, colonial, and Indigenous art production. As a member of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities, Bell grew out of a generation of Aboriginal activists and has remained committed to the politics of Aboriginal emancipation and self-determination. Bell is particularly interested in issues of perceived cultural authenticity formed within art. He has famously proclaimed that Aboriginal art is a white invention. That is, the very idea of recognisably Aboriginal art is a projection of non-Aboriginal Australia—a designation of a set of prescribed cultural practices and aesthetic forms that is acknowledged and accepted by, as well as deployed to promote, wider Australian culture.