Compassion etc. @ Collingwood Gallery

Australia is the only western democracy not to have constitutional or legislative bill of rights. Currently the racial discrimination act has been suspended in part of the country, so that the Australian federal government can discriminated against the aboriginal population. The abuse of the rights of refugees is currently a fundamental cornerstone of Australian mainstream political debate and both major political parties vie to be the cruellest and least humane towards refugees. Basically the state of human rights, even awareness of human rights, in Australia is appalling.

Against this background there are two alternatives: to be loudly critical or quietly submissive. The exhibition, “Compassion and Commitment: Starting from Home” at the Collingwood Gallery, part of the 2010 Human Rights Arts & Film Festival. has chosen the later alternative. The curators, Louisa Marks and Kelly Madigan have referred to human rights in their curatorial statement as often as Australian governments have legislated to protect them – zero. Instead they have decided, with all the good will in the world but little of the intellect, that humanism and other vague positive statements are a satisfactory alternative.

“Recognising the inspiration and awareness which stems from creative expression, the objective of this exhibition is to highlight the active collaboration and communication between artists and community groups.” (Curatorial statement) They could have, with this kind of statement, recognized “the inspiration and awareness” stemming from the artists who design logos and propaganda for fascist groups. Many totalitarian regimes, like Stalinist Russia, encourage “active collaboration and communication between artists and community groups.” It is all very vague; perhaps it would have helped if the curators had developed some understanding of human rights rather than trying to shoehorn their interests into a human rights festival.

In a further demonstration of how much value Australia has for human rights the exhibition is at the Collingwood Gallery, a small shop front rental gallery space. In 2007 I saw the “Apropos” exhibition at Bus Art Space, part of the first Human Rights Arts & Film Festival, and my disappointment with the exhibition was that the art on exhibition wasn’t reaching a wider audience.

It is all very disappointing and depressing. I have reviewed some of the artists exhibiting in this exhibition before; there is nothing wrong with their art, some of which I’ve seen before, but I don’t think that their work has anything to do with human rights. I don’t think that these artists are fooling themselves that their art has anything to do with human rights either – it is just another exhibition opportunity. A few of the artists like, William Kelly, Ben McKeowan, Stephanie Karavasilis and Sonja Hornung do address current and local human rights issues in their art but in the context of this exhibition they were effectively muted.

I don’t know what the rest of 2010 Human Rights Arts & Film Festival is like but I hope that it has more guts and relevance than the exhibition at Collingwood Gallery.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

4 responses to “Compassion etc. @ Collingwood Gallery

  • carl gopal

    Good points, and understandable frustration.

  • Helen

    Hi Mark,

    Victorian and the ACT are two states that do have charter of rights legislation. The Rudd government consulted widely with the community on whether Australia should have a bill of rights and a report produced which recommened a charter of rights for Australia. Rather gutlessly the Attorney General announced last week that no such legislation will be enacted, so we will remain, as you say, the only Western democracy without a bill of rights.
    Once again they have put it in the ‘too hard’ basket, what a disgrace

    • Mark Holsworth

      Victoria and the ACT do have something called a “charter of rights” that requires that if the government wants to override these rights that they write a reason for the removal of these rights. The reason is not examined by a judge and no evidence needs to be presented to support the reason. So the reason for removing the right not to presumed guilty of graffiti for carrying a paint spray can was that “graffiti is a serious problem.” A friend, who works in the mental health area, said that it would be better if they actually gave patients human rights rather than writing why they couldn’t. But in Australian elections you have to give a preference to all candidates even if they support the censorship of your political views. So Australian politicians will be elected even if the majority of Australians want a bill of rights.

  • phil hall

    Hi Mark I can understand your dissapointment and rejection of this exhibition in your philosophical and political expectations. However I think that often you miss the point purely through this attachment to your own egoic expectations – perhaps you could learn something from our Tibetan brothers and sisters in this regard.

    The theme of this exhibitions and the curatorial ethos was actually about ” Compassion and Comitment”. The starting from home theme has do do more with those of us committed to working with multi cultural, traumatised refugees in our own community. As an artist who has been involved with highly radical activist art throughout Europe and elsewhere since the seventies, I find your dismissal of what we are trying to do in our communities in real GUTSY terms, an appaling theoretical oversite of what this exhibition is trying to convey.

    It is all so easy to take a stand point of political distain which is all too highly relevant, philosophically and politically I am very much in your corner, but for those of us who also give our lives to picking up the pieces of real people who have already experienced more than you can possibly imagine, your isolated assertions are nothing less than insulting.

    You know already what a pathetic form of democracy we live in – swinging beige voters rule the roost and politics batttles for control of this pathetic centre point or if you like lowest common denominator .

    There is still a place for radical activism and belive me I yearn for a return to the times when we up for a fight. Unfortunately politics is no longer extreme because of the beige factor that society has sublimanly excepted on mass.
    I for one am dedicated to the real mission of compassion, comittment,humour and patience. To be honest we would be much better off as a society if we got out of our little cupbourds, our dark clothes and social isolation, our virtual friendships and engaged with real people, healing and new social development beyond politics yet being a force for change.



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