Dispatch Review respectfully acknowledges the Whadjuk people as the traditional owners and custodians of the lands upon which we live, work and enjoy. We pay deep respect to Elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Reviews:

  1. Light Event by Sam Beard
  2. Rejoinder: Archival / Activism by Max Vickery
  3. Access and Denial in The Purple Shall Govern by Jess van Heerden
  4. 4Spells by Sam Beard
  5. Abstract art, DMT capitalism and the ugliness of David Attwood’s paintings
    by Darren Jorgensen
  6. Unearthing new epistemologies of extraction by Samuel Beilby
  7. Seek Wisdom by Max Vickery
  8. Something for Everyone by Sam Beard
  9. Violent Sludge by Aimee Dodds
  10. State of Abstraction by Francis Russell
  11. Double Histories: Special Issue, with texts by Ian McLean, Terry Smith, and Darren Jorgensen & Sam Beard
  12. Six Missing Shows by Sam Beard
  13. What We Memorialise by Max Vickery
  14. At the End of the Land by Amelia Birch
  15. The beautiful is useful by Sam Beard
  16. ām / ammā / mā maram by Zali Morgan
  17. Making Ground, Breaking Ground by Maraya Takoniatis
  18. Art as Asset by Sam Beard
  19. Cactus Malpractice by Aimee Dodds
  20. Sweet sweet pea by Sam Beard
  21. COBRA by Francis Russell
  22. PICA Barn by Sam Beard 
  23. Gallery Hotel Metro by Aimee Dodds
  24. A Stroll Through the Sacred, Profane, and Bizarre by Samuel Beilby
  25. Filling in the Gaps at Spacingout by Maraya Takoniatis
  26. Disneyland Cosmoplitanism by Sam Beard
  27. Discovering Revenue by Anonymous
  28. Uncomfortable Borrowing by Jess van Heerden
  29. It’s Not That Strange by Stirling Kain
  30. Hatched Dispatched by Sam Beard & Aimee Dodds
  31. Fuck the Class System by Jess van Heerden, Jacinta Posik, Darren Jorgensen, et al.
  32. Wild About Nothing by Sam Beard
  33. Paranoiac, Peripatetic: Pet Projects by Aimee Dodds
  34. An Odd Moment for Women’s Art by Maraya Takoniatis
  35. Transmutations by Sam Beard
  36. The Post-Vandal by Sam Beard
  37. Art Thugs and Humbugs by Max Vickery
  38. Disneyland, Paris, Ardross and the artworld by Darren Jorgensen
  39. Bizarrely, A Biennale by Aimee Dodds
  40. Venus in Tullamarine by Sam Beard
  41. Weird Rituals by Sam Beard
  42. Random Cube by Francis Russell
  43. Yeah, Nah, Rockpool by Aimee Dodds
  44. Towards a Blind Horizon by Kieron Broadhurst
  45. Being Realistic by Sam Beard




At the end of atrocity there is a period of ideological sanitisation, followed by a relegation to the historical archive. Certain historical elements are privileged, regardless of their centrality to the events in question. We praise Oskar Schindler, but forget the ghetto uprisings; we idolise Mohandas Gandhi, and erase the Gahrwali mutiny; we praise Nelson Mandela, but ignore the strikes and stayaways which he betrayed. (We’ll get to that in a bit.) Who and what we memorialise matters.
        I want to talk about Roberta Joy Rich’s The Purple Shall Govern, an art exhibition that is perhaps more accurately described as a radical museum, which draws out the transnational links between segregation in Australia and apartheid in South Africa. It is good to see an exhibition like this, particularly in Perth, a popular destination for racists fleeing South Africa after Mandela’s election in 1994. The Purple Shall Govern focuses on apartheid as a system of spatial segregation. Upon exiting the staircase, a looming wall didactic points this out:

From 1948 to 1994 in South Africa, Apartheid defined the lives and determined the active institutionalised segregation of Black people who were forced to live separately from the White minority and had restricted political rights and freedom. Similar laws and policies… mirror the separation, control and segregation of Bla(c)k people in Australia.

Several enlarged news clippings later, I am watching a video in a small side gallery, the only surviving footage of the Purple Rain protest in 1989. I walk in towards the end, and it takes me a moment to realise that the video is playing backwards—an armoured anti-riot vehicle vacuums up a flood of purple water, a protester pulls a banner away from two police officers, people pour into the street. When it plays forwards the outcome is inverted, a chaos of purple. The angle of the footage obscures the spectacle which resulted from protester Philip Ivey turning the water cannon on police, the National Party headquarters, and anyone and anything nearby. PICA’s website argues that the purple dye ‘momentarily dissolv[ed] racial segregation’. As potent an image as this is—and it certainly had a wide impact—this seems grandiose, especially considering that 500 people were arrested in connection with the protest in the following days. Any dissolution was, without a doubt, incredibly “momentary”.
        One key historical element omitted from the entry didactic is that, under apartheid, control of mobility was always coupled with control of labour power. This connection can be seen in the pass system. In order to leave a Bantustan (an arbitrarily government-assigned “homeland”) non-White people had to present proof of employment. Without it they could face anything from intimidation to murder at the hands of the police. Despite this, Black workers in South Africa organised in unions and universities, with the largest single-industry strike numbering some 340,000 mineworkers. The 1991 general strike was in the millions! For working class Black South Africans, the struggle for liberation from apartheid was also a struggle against capitalist exploitation. This was the driving force that ended apartheid in South Africa.
        Upon entering the second wing of the exhibition the viewer is confronted by an apartheid era pass. Across the top of the open page it reads ‘Labour Bureau, Efflux and Influx Control’. This kind of cold bureaucratic language is always staggering—from the euphemistic “evacuations” discussed at the Wannsee Conference in 1942 Germany, to the obscenely pseudoscientific “blood quantum” which guided the crime of assimilation in Australia. The identity card is more understated, its racism designated by a simple letter “K” for “kleurling”, or “coloured”.
        The remaining works lie behind temporary partition walls. Unfortunately the radio and headset were defunct when I visited, but the video work across from them more than made up for it. This work—a montage of statesmen and activists during Nelson Mandela’s 1990 visit to Australia—silences the pale, male, and stale government officials. The result is a stilted dialogue. Aboriginal activists Dr. Gary Foley and Michael Mansell call Mandela a hypocrite for refusing to take up and argue for Indigenous issues, while Mandela addresses rooms full of ruling class figures. This contradiction is left disappointingly open.
        Mandela’s hypocrisy should come as no surprise. The African National Congress (ANC), the organisation to which he belonged, was a predominantly middle-class organisation more interested in running capitalism than confronting the exploitation of Black South Africans. While imprisoned Mandela negotiated with South African President F.W. De Klerk, selling off central parts of the ANC programme in exchange for parliamentary power, specifically wealth redistribution, workers’ rights, wage increases, and nationalisation of industries—the very things for which Black South African workers were fighting. He had more in common with Bob Hawke, who stripped Australian workers of the right to strike, than he ever had with Foley or Mansell. None of this is explored in the exhibition, but I enjoy any excuse to hear from Foley.
        The state of South Africa today bears out this betrayal. While apartheid was ended de jure at the political level, it continues de facto at the economic. South Africa is ranked as the most unequal country in the world today; race remains the largest factor in relation to wealth inequality, which inequality remains unchanged since the 90s; and the gender pay gap is higher than 30%. Apartheid was not banished to the archive by the 1994 election—it remains with us today. The same goes for Australia’s failure to close the gap in Indigenous health outcomes and wealth inequality, or end deaths in custody or child removals. In many cases these outcomes are getting worse, their continuing decline a direct result of state and federal policy.
        In focusing narrowly on the political rights gained under liberal democracy, the broader context of the fight for better economic conditions for everyday people is obscured, as are the self-serving treacheries of leaders like Mandela and organisations like the ANC. This framing is common in public discourse, and so it seems strange to see it reproduced, albeit with a few interesting slippages, in an exhibition focused on unearthing silenced histories and deconstructing colonial modalities. The Purple Shall Govern is a radical museum that orients itself to the surface of struggle rather than the roiling mass of activity which characterises the anti-apartheid movement, and in so doing reinforces the narratives that it seeks to disrupt. What we memorialise matters.


Roberta Joy Rich, The Purple Shall Govern, 3 November - 31 December 2023, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.



Image credits:
1. Roberta Joy Rich: The Purple Shall Govern, installation view, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), 2023, image © the artist, photo: @artdoc_au
2. Roberta Joy Rich, 'The Purple Shall Govern', 2021, image © UCT Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. The artist has applied a purple hue to the original monochrome archival image.
3. Roberta Joy Rich: The Purple Shall Govern, installation view, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), 2023, image © the artist, photo: @artdoc_au