Lucas Grogan-The Bogan

Back in June this year I became aware of an artist who was making seemingly Aboriginal art works, but on closer inspection realised they were ugly, banal false representations proporting to be something they are not & blatantly ripping off the designs of Aboriginal peoples, the details of which I will not go into because I can’t and will not speak of behalf of other peoples. I will say that I found and find Grogan’s work offensive, but not in an exciting provocative way, but in the kind of way that makes yours stomach churn at the deliberate attention seeking obnoxiousness of it. Anyway, thought I would share some correspondence I entered into with Marita Smith, of Gallerysmith here in Melbourne who represent Grogan and have included it here for your reading pleasure.

From: Paola Balla [mailto:wembawoman@hotmail.com]
Sent: Tuesday, 12 June 2012 2:45 PM
To: marita@gallerysmith.com.au
Subject: Lucas Grogan

Dear Marita,

I am writing to you to express my outrage and disgust that you are representing the artist Lucas Grogan and showing his work in August.

I am a Victorian Aboriginal woman, of the Wemba Wemba & Gunditjmara Peoples, a visual artist, curator and lecturer and want to let you and Lucas know that his work is offensive and racist and denigrates the imagery, culture, history and art of Aboriginal Peoples of Australia and I believes infringes upon moral, intellectual and cultural copyright in his misappropriation of Aboriginal art and design.

Grogan’s work is deliberately provocative, misleading, misogynistic, hateful and depicts ugly distortions of Aboriginal manhood, family and kinship and only adds to the inequity, racism, injustice and discrimination that Aboriginal Peoples of Australia experience on a daily basis in this country.

I believe that as  non Indigenous artists in this country, Grogan and yourself as a gallery director have a moral and cultural responsibility to demonstrate leadership within the arts industry to which Aboriginal artists contribute millions of dollars to the Australian economy and arts industry of which you both benefit.

As non Indigenous arts industry members you both benefit from living off Aboriginal land, whose Traditional Owners have never conceded sovereignty to you as individuals or to the nation of Australia which I assume you both belong and benefit from, nor to the land your gallery sits on or the land on which Grogan or you both live and enjoy.

So, whether you believe you can legally justify the inclusion of the work of Grogan or not, consider your moral and citizenship rights and responsibilities to the First Peoples of this country to whom it appears you and Grogan discount, reject, oppress and further objectify through his anthropological, banal and ugly visual representations of Aboriginal Australians.

How can you justify the inclusion of him as an artist and his work in your gallery and program?

Please know that I am not the only person who feels this way about Grogan’s work.

Paola Balla

Her sweet reply:

From: marita@gallerysmith.com.au
To: wembawoman@hotmail.com
Subject: RE: Lucas Grogan
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2012 13:33:09 +1000

Dear Paola,

Your email about Lucas Grogan includes assumptions about his new work which are incorrect. None of the works in Lucas’ upcoming exhibition are derivations of images of Aboriginal people. The images which have inspired him are universally recognised symbols of fertility and matriarchy, many of which are from Egyptian and Byzantine civilisations.

If you find these images offensive, I would suggest you refrain from looking at Lucas’ or my website.

Regards,

Marita

Marita Smith

Director

Gallerysmith

170-174 Abbotsford St

North Melbourne Vic 3051

03 9329 1860, 0425 809 328

http://www.gallerysmith.com.au

My bemused response:

Dear Marita,

I can only make assumptions based on the work of his which I have seen and where his work is described as “A white australian man exposing the seedy underbelly of what has become of the fragile indigenous population of this country” Iain Dawson .http://www.iaindawson.com/pages/artists_works.php?artistID=70
 
A highly inflammatory and racist and offensive statement in itself. But, I’ll take that up with Mr Dawson.
 
So, one would assume wouldn’t one? And assuming you are showing him because you approve of his past work, otherwise why show him?
Oh, so now he is not appropriating Aboriginal art and design and people and culture and distorting Aboriginal people into stereotypes… now he is ripping off, sorry appropriating other cultures such as Egyptian and Byzantine civilisations?  How inspired and original of him.
I clearly stated that his work is highly offensive to me, sorry if you found my email difficult to comprehend, unfortunately as much as I would enjoy refraining from looking at his work or your website, I am entitled to and shouldn’t have to find images that are insulting to me and other Aboriginal Australians on your website or in his work and unfortunately his work appears in places like the Melbourne Fashion Festival window displays in the city I live in and in other places where exhibitions are promoted…so are you suggesting that I walk around with my eyes closed and not read art publications or emails?
Just a note Marita, there is a huge difference between the art of appropriation and the continued privilege and benefit afforded people like yourself and Lucas Grogan who benefit from the ugly distortions of Aboriginal Peoples that Grogan creates because he feels the need to show Aboriginal Peoples and artists that our protocols and beliefs (as prevalent as in ‘traditional’ practices as in contemporary practices which continue in the face of ongoing colonisation and ill health, lower life expectancy and the exploitation of the Aboriginal art industry) do not have to be acknowledged, respected or upheld and obviously mean nothing to him or directors like yourself.
 
Perhaps legal and public action remains the only course of action.
Not a very appropriate response Marita but thanks for your considered email, I will be following up and sharing our correspondence with colleagues and networks.
Regards,
Paola
 
Paola Balla
Artist, Educator, Arts Worker
B.Ed, Post Grad Dip & Masters
Community Cultural Devolpment Practice

 PS. Suffise to say, Marita and I have called an end to our pen pal status and have decided to take some time out from our relationship. I am so proud to see the artists Melbourne based, Indian born Texta  Queen and Brisbane based Indigenous artist Ryan Presley have quit Gallerysmith and Jan Manton Art respectively in protest at The Bogan’s bogus work. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/indigenous/painter-quits-in-row-over-artist/story-fn9hm1pm-1226524510727

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Lucas Grogan-The Bogan

  1. Sarah

    I really appreciate this post and let me start by saying I agree completely that Grogan is out of line, making racist art and appropriating another culture. But you said a couple of really interesting things in your email to Marita that got me thinking and I can’t help but disagree.
    You say that white Australians have a “responsibility” to the Traditional Owners and (forgive me if I misunderstand) say they are “benefiting” from living on “Aboriginal land.” I am probably reading too much into your words but it sounds like you are saying this is not a land where (forgive my optimistic naivety) people no matter their skin colour can co-exist, but rather it belongs to one group and everyone else’s presence is unwelcome, at best tolerated. This kind of antagonistic approach is probably what scored you a terse reply from Marita. I agree with acknowledging Traditional Owners but I, as a white female, become frustrated when I am told I don’t have a the right to stand on the soil of the country I was born into. This legacy from Australia’s early days is a burden passed from one generation to the next. When does the penance we must pay end? When do we finally embrace one another (as I always try to do with my friends and colleagues, no matter their background, each day)?
    Finally, I understand “appropriating” other cultures is a contentious issue. This Grogan business has got me thinking about the recent No Doubt music video which was pulled because the native American community was upset at the use of their imagery, art forms and traditional costumes being used in an entertainment, punk rock format. I’ve been excluded from cultural activities before because of the colour of my skin. Personally, I believe it is a beautiful thing when a culture so moves someone from outside of it they feel compelled to participate. No Doubt had consulted native American friends and cultural experts before filming their clip but it was still not enough to satisfy the native American community. Perhaps rightly so. However, dangerous things start to happen when we draw the line between “them” and “us” and start saying we can do things but they can’t because they are outsiders or their skin colour is wrong. That being said, Grogan certainly does not fall into this category; his art contains clearly racist imagery. But is it really terrible of him to use aboriginal techniques in his execution? I just felt I need to get that off my chest…
    Your post raises a lot of issues and really makes me think about the current state of race relations in Australia so thank you. I’m an Australian currently living in Japan and beleive me, I know what it is like to be a minority and experience racism here (not just from the majority population, but others within the minority community). Lots of love and respect, peace out, -Sarah

  2. Christina

    I can’t help but respond to some of Sarah’s comments such as:

    “I agree with acknowledging Traditional Owners but I, as a white female, become frustrated when I am told I don’t have a the right to stand on the soil of the country I was born into. This legacy from Australia’s early days is a burden passed from one generation to the next. When does the penance we must pay end? When do we finally embrace one another (as I always try to do with my friends and colleagues, no matter their background, each day)?”

    The thing is, YOU DON’T really have the right to stand on the soil of the country that you were born into… nor do I, for that matter! I’m not saying that it’s personally your fault, and we all have to acknowledge that the past cannot be changed, the damage has been done and to move forward, but the legacy and the burden will and SHOULD remain and be passed on from one generation to the next as long as it takes for us to reconcile the continuing inequality faced by Aboriginal people. So I am sorry for your frustration Sarah but perhaps you might want to accept that you “don’t have a the right to stand on the soil of the country I was born into” as a way of acknowledging the traditional owners of this country. Maybe consider it your privilege not your right.

    I think it is really wonderful that you embrace people no matter their background. But I hope you won’t be too upset and that you understand if those from disadvantaged minorities don’t feel quite the same way – by which I mean that it is probably easier for you to have have warm and fuzzy feeling (having not experienced hugely negative inequality and disadvantage through racism -I am basing this on your comments about living in Japan) than it is for others.

    Also to your comment “I’m an Australian currently living in Japan and beleive me, I know what it is like to be a minority and experience racism here (not just from the majority population, but others within the minority community).”

    .. Is not quite the same as being born into a minority faced with ongoing inequalities that affect many facets of your life….. but I’m happy that you get to experience a tiny TINY percentage of what it might be like to experience racism….. just sayin…

    I think everyone has a right to a voice and can say and produce the messages they want, but there is a responsibility and a price that comes with this. I commend that artists who have decided to leave the representing galleries. To this end I hope that others do not support Lucas Grogan and the galleries that represent him. He sounds like a bit of an idiot to me. What’s interesting is the state of the art world when artwork such as Lucas’s – generated in the guise of creating an “interesting dialogue” (very fashionable) is considered good or interesting. I think it’s just boring and embarrassing for the galleries that are representing him.

  3. Pingback: Australian Aboriginal knowledge recorded | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Paul Ryan

    We were all born on this great molten ball, planet earth. The surface of this ball is covered in the main by a big puddle of water, the pacific puddle , the Indian puddle and so on. Where there is no puddle there is dry land. We all live on these dry patches of land and are more connected by rock than we are divided by shallow puddles. So we are all one people , living together, sharing food, stories, culture. We are all indigenous to earth .
    I am white, I think, and adopted. Born in New Zealand. My wife is from java. We live in wollongong and have friends from many cultural backgrounds. We share our lives, food , stories. We share freely. I implore all Australians to share their cultures freely and generously. This is the key to harmony and true reconciliation. I assume that that is what we all want.

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