Naeem Rana is exhibiting at the Eisenberg Gallery, again. Rana last exhibited there late last year during the election campaign. Again it is an exhibition with political content, not surprising really for an artist making poster-size digital prints. The exhibition is a questioning “Rejoice” in Australian nationality, the ‘rejoice’ taken from the first line of the national anthem.
Along with the powerful patterns and colors of the kind of Pop Art digital prints that Naeem Rana usually exhibits; there is also a series of photographs in the exhibition. I always enjoy seeing artist’s work that is different from their usual work because it is either an indication of a new direction or a revelation of another aspect of their art.
The photographs illustrate the story of refugees coming to Australia and being put in a detention camp using toys. Three birds are in a paper boat made of immigration forms. It looks like Naeem Rana’s young son is having a good influence on his father in getting him to tell the story with toys clearly and effectively.
The exhibition touched me; the idea that one can change of identity at a nations border is something that has haunted me most of my life. I have two nationalities: Canadian and Australian. I still feel like asking my father what I should put down to questions about nationality: if it is South Africa in the 1970s then I must be Canadian and if it is Australia then I’m Australian, if anyone asks. It really depends on who is asking and for what reason – my nationality is an uncertainty principle (very apt for the Eisenberg Gallery).
In the artist’s statement accompanying the exhibition Naeem Rana writes: “We promote individuality and respect individuals’ way of life as long as they are not of ethnic origin.” Australian national identity has long been the subject of serious discussion and art, like the bombastic composition by Scotsman, Peter Dodds McCormick (Advance Australia Fair, 1878). I prefer the less serious discourse of artists, like Rana, on the subject for in contemporary art there is less certainty and a greater nuance of ideas and emotions.
Across the road a way there is a rare piece of nationalist stencil graffiti: “Be Proud” it proclaims with a Southern Cross and map of Australia. Underneath someone has written in pen: “Of what?”