This summer, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of U.Va. is exhibiting the artwork of Tony Albert, a Girramay artist from Townsville, Queensland, whose work engages with issues of race, police violence, discrimination and identity.
Brothers is a single installation containing twenty-six photographs of young Aboriginal men. Each man’s chest bears a red target, but Albert has also painted the photographs with designs and symbols he associates with strength and resistance. Moving Targets, a film depicting a dance commissioned by Albert from choreographer Stephen Page of Bangarra Dance Theatre, will be shown in the exhibition.
These works respond to incidents of police violence toward Aboriginal people. Specifically, Albert was inspired by events that took place in Sydney in 2012, where two teenage Aboriginal joyriders were shot and injured by police. Following this, a protest was held at Sydney’s Town Hall, and friends of the victims appeared with targets drawn on their chests.
For Albert, the target symbolizes the daily experience of being targeted because of race. It also refers to the blanket stereotypes applied to Aboriginal people as a result of government policies such as the Northern Territory Intervention. “We’re constantly wearing a target as people, but there’s also an optimistic twist about how, or why, or when we wear it or change it.” The target can also be seen as a symbol of empowerment and unity, as concentric circles are a prominent visual characteristic of Aboriginal artwork from the central desert of Australia.
Albert is clear, however, that his work is about more than the Aboriginal experience. He explains that “the ideas that I’m looking at stem from a human condition, rather than just being Aboriginal… [I’m] looking at it on a much broader social and political level, than just honing in within Australia or an Aboriginal context.” Brothers brings an international voice to the ongoing dialogue about race and discrimination surrounding recent events in the U.S. and Charlottesville. Kluge-Ruhe Director Margo Smith said, “Although this body of work was first shown in 2012, it is of particular relevance at this moment, with our nation and our local community struggling to comprehend the incidents of violence toward Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Martese Johnson among many others.”
Curator Franklin Sirmans from Los Angeles County Museum of Art, wrote an essay for the Brothers exhibition catalogue, placing Tony’s work in conversation with a host of other internationally known contemporary artists.
Visitors will have the opportunity to reflect on the exhibition’s themes in an interactive space at the museum. Prompts like “Write or draw something you feel sorry about” will encourage participants to explore their personal experiences.
Albert’s work is held in numerous public and private collections internationally. In 2014 he won both the $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize and the prestigious $50,000 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. Most recently, he unveiled a major commission in Sydney’s Hyde Park, a monument dedicated to Australia’s Indigenous military service men and women.
Brothers will be on view May 26 – August 9, 2015, and a reception on Friday, May 29 from 5:30 – 7:30 pm will celebrate the opening of Brothers and a new exhibition of works from the Kluge-Ruhe permanent collection. Tony Albert will visit Charlottesville July 8 – 11, and will participate in a youth art program, a panel discussion with other artists, and other public programs.
The Kluge-Ruhe Collection wishes to thank Tony Albert, Liz Nowell, Sullivan + Strumpf, Carriageworks, Franklin Sirmans and Debra and Dennis Scholl for contributing to this exhibition. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.
Images: Tony Albert, Brothers, 2013, courtesy of the artist.