In a television interview on 60 Minutes, Pauline Hanson was asked by the host Tracey Curro if she was xenophobic, to which Hanson replied ‘Please explain’. Following this interview, ‘Please explain’ became associated with Hanson, largely for the purposes of ridicule (Wilmoth, (1998); Maxine McKew and Lateline; The Age. Melbourne: 45-46).This phrase has also come to represent my diasporic perception and the solution to my artistic identity crisis. Its formation was a response to the emergence in Queensland of far-right politician Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party during the years 1995-2001. I propose that Hansonism, like Powellism in 1970s Britain, created a moral panic (Hall 1988: 228-229) that resulted in race becoming a signifier of a wider crisis. In Hanson’s case, the crisis supposedly involved the abandonment and betrayal of white Australians. The notion of white decline (Hage 1998: 22) surfaced in the political discourse of grievance and resentment, and formed the social and political impetus for my practices of resistance and critique from a diasporic perspective. In this paper I discuss how the combination of political and aesthetic components in my art practice came to be utilised to oppose Hansonism, and how they were formative to my positioning as a diasporic artist and to the forging of a new relationship between art, politics and figurative painting. It was my intention as an artist to show how ‘lies’ in politics can be exposed by art that employs a satirical edge..
In order to give a context for the development of the political ‘lie’, this paper begins by outlining the social and political background of Queensland and Hansonism. It then proceeds to discuss how my personal experience was the impetus for the development of my studio practice. Finally, I analyse the significance of my aesthetic response to Hansonism, in relation to both my displacement and to key texts.
‘So where the hell do I go?’
In 1989, in a park in Footscray, in the western suburbs of Melbourne, I struck up a conversation with an older white Australian man. As I had only recently arrived from Britain, I was interested to hear his thoughts about Australia. When the subject turned to television, he casually referred to the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) as ‘the wog channel’, which astounded me. This brief conversation indicated to me that racism had a degree of acceptance in Australian life.
I later discovered that SBS performed a specific role within a wider multicultural project and so was ‘tolerated’ by Australians of Anglo-Celtic background (Stratton 1998: 5). This particular man’s perception of SBS was emblematic of a wider crisis: contemporary Australia had begun to challenge ‘old Australia’, so that many people from an essentially Anglo-Celtic background became resentful of the elites, that included bureaucrats and the ‘do-gooders’ for promoting multiculturalism. This crisis of identity led many to ask, ‘So where the hell do I go?’ (Hanson 1996 10 September) and played a significant role in the outbreak of populist racism that surfaced in Queensland in the mid-1990s.
Regional Queensland and its constituents were perhaps most aggrieved by the perceived inaccessibility and arrogance of the Keating government (Brunton 1998: 39-40). Historically, low prices for commodities, long-term drought, and a lack of necessary services had bred discontent in the bush (Fraser 1998: 49). It is from this context of social and economic decline that small businesswoman, Pauline Hanson, emerged into the political arena. Hanson lost her Ipswich council seat in March 1995, but was persuaded to join the local Liberal Party and stand for election as member for Oxley in the 1996 general election – a seat considered to be the safest Labor seat in Queensland at the time (Balson 2000: 9).
Hanson’s political career began with her letter to the Queensland Times (QT), a local Ipswich paper. She targeted the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Robert Tickner, and accused him, as well as the Labor government, of creating a ‘racist problem’ by supposedly ‘showering Aborigines with money, facilities and opportunities that only these people can obtain’ (cited in Manne 1998: 5). Her fundamental position was that special treatment for Aborigines would result in resentment among ‘ordinary Australians’ – the people she claimed to speak for (Hanson 1996 10 September).
The Liberal Party summarily withdrew their endorsement of Hanson’s candidature, because anti-Indigenous sentiment was deemed unacceptable, and it appeared unlikely that she, or any other Liberal candidate, could win the safe Labor seat. Hanson consequently contested the seat as an Independent candidate, even though she still appeared on Liberal Party ballot cards, as there had been insufficient time to amend them (there were only sixteen days remaining before the election). Balson (2000 p.8) observes that the controversy concerning the QT letter, in which she brought up hitherto taboo subjects, such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), was greeted with derision by the ‘politically correct’ sections of the media and government. Nonetheless it also created ‘a wave of sympathy for the woman who had dared to take on the establishment’ (Balson 2000: 8). Voters in the Oxley electorate clearly identified with Hanson’s predicament, as she was voted in with a swing of 21 percent, the largest anti-Labor swing of the election (Manne 1998: 3).
Ipswich had attracted working class British migrants to the minefields and the railway workshops, and in so doing rendered it a traditional Labor voting area. The demise of Ipswich’s heavy industrial and manufacturing base contributed to high unemployment levels for the young and unskilled, particularly among the small Indigenous and Islander communities of Riverview and Goodna.
Though conjecturally different from Powellism in Britain in 1968, the conditions in Queensland during these years very much mirrored Hall’s ‘moral panic’ that he discusses in Racism and Reaction (1978), and which has implications of a wider moral crisis:
[The panic] deals with those fears and anxieties, not by addressing the real problems and conditions which underlie them, but by projecting and displacing them onto the identified social group. That is to say, the moral panic crystallizes popular fear and anxieties which have a real basis and by providing them with a concrete, identifiable…social object, seeks to resolve them (Proctor 2004: 85).
The previous moral panic in Britain had been associated with black youth and crime, and played on the fear and insecurities of Britons, whereas the backdrop of decline in Queensland enabled One Nation to produce a panic by resurrecting a brand of populism based on conservative politics, which came to be supported by far right groups as it had done previously under Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s National Party (Wear 2000: 57). In both cases, the panic focussed on racial difference as a signifier of a wider social crisis. Hanson suggested that those she termed the ‘elites’ had somehow devalued and betrayed ’white mainstream Australia’, with a social program that exalted migrant and Indigenous difference at a time when ‘ordinary Australians’ were experiencing economic hardship (Hanson 1996 10 September).
Hanson’s ‘mainstream Australia’ thereby positions Anglo-Celtic values as central to Australian identity, since they ‘created this nation, [which was not to be handed] over to those who are modern day free-loaders and discontents from abroad’ (Hanson 1997: 228-229). One Nation’s single-minded approach to migration was assimilation: ‘If you want to be Australian, then get in the middle’ (Hanson 1997: 228-229).
According to social researcher Hugh McKay, the success of Hansonism was dependent on three factors:
first, a widespread sense of insecurity that is ‘the natural outcome of a society that is in the process of reinventing itself’; second, ‘the racism inherent in the human breast… the dark side of our natural tendency towards cultural identity seeking’; third, ‘the black hole where political leadership and vision should be’ (Goot 1998: 52).
The voicing of resentment from Anglo-Australians towards Indigenous and immigrant groups became detectably more strident from 1996 onwards – under John Howard’s Liberal Party leadership. The feeling of grievance was aided and encouraged in Queensland by ‘religious fundamentalism and right wing minority parties’ (Jupp 2002: 134). In this way, the language of what Hanson terms ‘commonsense’ (Hanson 1996 10 September) was utilised to expound the notion that Anglo culture was undervalued and under threat, and consequently from Hanson’s perspective, it had to be defended. Her unadorned language appealed to her imagined community, the ‘forgotten people’ (Stratton 1998: 31). She spoke of ‘the battlers’ and having ‘a fair go’, for example. In so doing, Hanson was partly disingenuous, since the unemployed ‘battlers’ did not form a significant section of her support base, whereas the small businessman, and self-funded retirees were represented. In other words, Hanson directed her language of ‘commonsense’ to lower middle-class Australia (Stratton 1998: 79), and the petit bourgeoisie subsequently appropriated the term ‘the battler’ for themselves. In their eyes, they possessed the real Australian identity; they were the individuals doing it tough, whereas the special interest migrant and Indigenous groups were receiving services out of ‘our taxes’. According to the politics of resentment, ethnic groups and Australia’s Indigenous people were getting ‘something for nothing’.
If the Hansonite version of history was based upon a denial of Indigenous sovereignty, then the ‘elites’ were also guilty of silence. Stratton apportions some of the blame for the Hanson phenomenon on the failure of the Hawke/Keating governments to fully explain their social program at a time when some Australians were hurting economically (Stratton 1998: 214). The white multiculturalists also exhibited a collective silence on race, preferring instead to emphasise cultural difference. Anthropologist Ghassan Hage represents Hanson as the ‘return of the repressed’:
White multiculturalism cannot admit to itself that migrants and Aboriginal people are actually eroding the centrality of white people in Australia. This is because the very viability of White multiculturalism as a government ideology resides entirely in its capacity to suppress such a reality. As a result of this suppression, however, White multiculturalism leaves those White people who experience the loss, with no mainstream political language with which to express it. This is why, like a return of the repressed, the discourse of White decline was bound to express itself in the pathological political language of a home grown Australian neo-fascism (Hage 1998: 22).
When Hanson spoke of ‘Aboriginals [receiving] more benefits than non-Aboriginals’ (Hanson 1996 10 September) I knew the comment was erroneous and disingenuous. I was also aware of the relative poverty that existed among Indigenous people in the Ipswich region, as I had taught at the city’s TAFE College. I therefore responded to Hanson’s claims that Aboriginal people were receiving excessive benefits with extreme scepticism and a degree of anger. Furthermore, having lived through racism in Britain, I was apprehensive about the emergence of a social movement that promoted bigotry and intolerance, but which masqueraded as the voice of ‘commonsense’ (Hanson 1996 10 September). I realised too that Hanson’s position very much echoed Powell’s earlier appeal to the ‘ordinary working man’ in Britain (Powell 1968a).
I argue that Hanson played the race card as a means of winning support for her political constituency, so that race became a signifier of the crisis of white subjugation and paranoia (Hage 1998) in the years 1996-97. Having gained significant levels of support by 1998, the One Nation party was then able to play down the importance of race to a degree, whilst continuing to rely on the issue to retain the support of mainstream Australians in local branches.
One Nation acted as a magnet to far right groups, including pro-gun groups, who considered the party to represent the voice of Anglo-Celtic Australia, ‘resentful of its displacement from the centre of Australian cultural life by the new ethnic Australians, and nostalgic for a time its imagined identity was both secure and central’ (Stratton 1998: 29). Many of these groups found a home under One Nation, even though they had different agendas.
Opposition from the Unity Party and Resistance at One Nation meetings and rallies were arguably counter-productive since One Nation then became victims, thus garnering further support and sympathy. This opposition in fact never succeeded in making any impact on the political scene. Whereas the offensive mounted by political satirist Simon Hunt, or Pauline Pantsdown, was in many ways more effective. Like Rock against Racism, his was a vernacular culture that appeared more effective for opposing racism than conventional political discourse. Pantsdown, a drag artist, parodied Hanson in fashion and politics. As a post-modern sound artist, Hunt used sampling techniques of Hanson speeches in his songs for satirical purposes. Hunt also changed his name by deed poll to appear on the electoral role as Pantsdown and followed Hanson on a campaign trail. He explained his strategy:
My entertainment value draws people in, encouraging them to listen to the political message that’s behind my performance…Pauline Hanson is an artificial figure too. She fronts an evil that has always existed in society but until now was not easily digestible…By dressing like her, using her words and being badly made-up, I’m exposing her as an artificial character, and letting people see the real evil behind her (Smith 1998).
Pantsdown was successful in lampooning Hanson, and generated publicity that targeted youth through FM radio.
Having grown up in a racialised Britain, where skinheads who were associated with far right groups contributed to the climate of general unease and fear for those outside their imagined community, the advent of Hansonism was an uncomfortable reminder of past anxieties. It appeared to me that Hanson’s anti-Asian sentiment (Hanson 1996 10 September) was somewhat akin to the sentiments prevalent in Powell’s Britain: immigrants were once again being blamed for diluting the values of the dominant imagined community. In many ways the emergence of Hansonism was a Queensland phenomenon: in regional areas racism surfaced as resentment and hostility was directed towards those not considered to be ‘ordinary Australians’. Hanson thereby articulated the resentment that many in ‘her’ community felt, and reiterated the point in her maiden speech and beyond. Her ubiquitous presence in the media ultimately rendered racism acceptable in some sectors in Queensland.
The aggrieved white community composed of self-employed and self-funded retirees, may not initially have considered the race issue but they were now inclined to concur with Hanson that there were too many Asian migrants and that Aborigines were about to take their land back. They became quietly confident that Hanson was defending the values of old Australia and their identity against the challenge of new Australia.
Thus Hanson created a ‘moral panic’ whereby race became a signifier of difference, and people like me were targeted. I was subject to a disapproving but controlling racism that constructed specific Australian values as normative. One such value, which was exalted as quintessentially Australian, was the linking of individualism to the land, for example, the freedom to chainsaw native trees including the black wattle – which was considered a ‘rubbish tree’ by locals – the freedom to poison weeds, the freedom to dig dams and ditches, and the freedom to erect paddock fences. Such tasks were undertaken on an individual’s land and were all executed with the aid of tractors and other large machinery.
In the meantime, I was advised by neighbours to dig a trench with a mattock, and use 4mm wire to fence horse paddocks. The former proved impossible, and the latter was completed with extreme difficulty. In practical terms, fence lines mark boundaries and enable property owners to control their own land. Weeds however are able to transgress these boundaries, and an infestation of ‘Patterson’s Curse’, a wide leaf weed with purple flowers, served as a metaphor to me for the spreading and threat of alien persons in the neighbourhood. Weeds, like migrants are ’out of place’, an abhorrence to be expelled (Douglas 1966).
A newer resident than me, a white South African immigrant, seemingly sought to replicate his past way of life in Beachmere. He built a high perimeter fence around his property with a remote sliding gate which was the centrepiece of an ornate concrete entrance. Over the period of a year, he concreted a strip underneath the entire fence line, to ensure his property was secure and to keep his three angry dogs in. If I was developing a siege mentality that resulted from my living in a place I felt I didn’t belong, then it is arguably the case that my neighbour also felt insecure, albeit differently. My siege mentality derived from my neighbours, who were helpful at times on the surface, but disapproving, patronising, and racist nonetheless.
The discourse of Hansonism was attractive to my neighbours since they valued what they saw as her individualism. Hanson was considered to be ‘anti-Canberra, anti-parliamentary and anti-politician – inarticulate, resentful and stubbornly defiant’ (Goot 1998: 52). Hanson’s attempt to repeal the 1996 gun reforms also increased her popularity, which was already high with middle-aged men. Her appeal to the gun community, from this perspective, rested on the premise that the government were being ‘disrespectful’ by denying them a legitimate right. This was compounded by the threat that ‘sensible law-abiding men and women risk the prospect of being treated like criminals’ (Hanson 1997: 30).
An angry and resentful neighbour lived a few (acreage) blocks away from my family’s land; he was a self-employed builder who had restored his Queenslander home in a ‘heritage’ style. Whilst on walking trips around the block, I noticed him leave his vantage point in an upstairs room and make his way towards his gate in time to abuse me as I walked past. Although his remarks were not openly racist, they revealed an underlying resentment about my invasion of his space, even though I kept my distance and attempted to tactically ignore him. My daughter on horseback and myself playing fetch with my dog – using his pinecones as we walked past his block – evidently posed a threat. This neighbour kept a tidy yard and raked the pinecones that fell onto the nature strip into piles, forming small gardens on each side of his gate. He was upset that my dog regularly took a cone from his pile to play. This minor infraction became the trigger that unleashed his fears and anxieties concerning the threat to his Australian identity from other cultures.
My neighbour was a small businessman, and was one of those ‘White Australians who [thought] they [had] a monopoly over “worrying” about the shape and the future of Australia’ (Hage 1998: 10). It is this type of ‘worrying’ that constructs a panic, concerning the number of immigrants, handouts to Aborigines, and so on, and which made the politics of One Nation popular with its aggrieved lower-middle class supporters. Hage argues that it is this very worrying that elevates them as ‘the most worthy Australians’ (Hage 1998: 10). Arguably, my neighbour’s ‘worry’ resulted from his obsessive behaviour concerning pinecones and this in turn triggered his resentment. Our visibility, and the way we used the neighbourhood, was interpreted by my neighbour as ‘disrespectful’ to his sense of Australian identity and the protection of individual rights.
The title of my painting ‘Neighbours’ (1998), (illus.1) subverts the assimilatory tone of the television series Neighbours. The program depicts cosy suburban life in Australia, where neighbours become ‘best friends’. This painting addressed my concerns at my neighbour’s aggressive behaviour, and as such constitutes my response to the ‘siege-like’ conditions I encountered. In this way the act of painting itself was for me an act of resistance. In ‘Neighbours’ my head is bowed in a submissive gesture that contrasts with the neighbour’s overtly masculine, outdoor physique. My neighbour is astride his perfectly maintained ride-on that displays a One Nation bumper sticker. His dog sits on the bonnet of his mower like a hood emblem signifying loyalty to his master –who will shoot anyone that strays onto his property. My neighbour takes care of his mower, his land, fence, dog, and wife. The nature strip between his fence line and the road is council property, however he concreted this area as an extension of his driveway, which means he effectively extended his border and area of control. As a consequence, unless I walked on the other side of the narrow road, it was difficult to evade him. My very presence was a threat as I invaded his space.
Figure 1: Neighbours, Les Morgan, 1998
I was ‘tolerated’ as long as I was not too visible. In being visible, I became a racial other to ‘mainstream’ or real Australians like my neighbour, and invaded the ‘psycho-geography of Australian Whiteness’ (Ang 1999: 189). The spatial nature of my neighbour’s paranoia extended to a distrust of all levels of government: he had a massive concrete water tank as he refused to use town water, and would burn and bury his rubbish rather than pay rates to the council for garbage collection. My neighbour looked back fondly to the Bjelke-Petersen years, which were characterised by the words ‘don’t you worry about that’; it was an era when corruption in the state’s police force and government actually benefited his community. The ABC Four Corners episode, ‘The Moonlight State’, detailed this corruption, thereby prompting the establishment of the Fitzgerald commission to investigate these claims. In that era of National Party dominance, white Australian values referred back to ‘a once stable and unified population, unified by its homogeneity’ (Leach 2000: 50).
My neighbour, like other Queenslanders of mainly British and Irish descent, felt threatened by migrants, who (in the language of Hansonism) received culturally specific services, formed ghettos, gangs and lobby groups – or in my case were simply visible. My neighbour’s imagined community excluded me, since it cast multicultural others as one homogenous group. In addition to my cultural displacement, my neighbour’s outward manifestations of masculinity and whiteness, cast me in a mould of femininity and non-whiteness, hence I was also regarded as somehow inferior (Hesse 1999: 205). My presence, behaviour, and use of the neighbourhood constituted a threat to the ‘common good’, which was ‘a means to protect certain particular privileges and inequalities’ (Stratton 1999: 168-69). The ‘common good’ related to my neighbour’s perspective and thereby reflected their concerns since they acted and behaved as Australian: people like him maintained every imaginable piece of rural machinery to its optimum performance. The ride-on mower is essential for those living on acreage; it is a multi-purpose machine that mows and distributes poison, thereby enabling the effective killing of unwanted weeds from the paddock. Unlike my neighbour, I destroyed a series of old and new mowers by hand mowing horse paddocks. I was viewed as an un-Australian male and my immigrant condition was pathologised through the construction of whiteness as outlined by Hesse (1999: 205-225).
The painting ‘Queenslanders’ (1999) (illus.2) depicts a white settler family, in a pose resembling a studio photograph from the turn of the last century. The man sits astride his mower (the ride-on looks out of place) with his wife and child, and behind the white picket fence is a beautiful Queenslander home. The painting’s subject and idea was appropriated from the eighteenth century British painter, Thomas Gainsborough, specifically his painting ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’ (1750); a painting that deliberately exudes wealth, ownership and control of property. The title ‘Queenslanders’ is itself a loaded signifier since I am referring to the white family but also to the newcomers as new Queenslanders, and yet the two groups are represented differently. Although they are positioned adjacent to one another, their relationship is antagonistic. The idyllic family portrait is disrupted by the presence of a large boat from which Asians are seen disembarking. The painting started as a group portrait of white Queenslanders and the boat was added as a response to Australia’s concern over the perceived influx of asylum seekers that were labelled ‘illegals’ in the racialised language of the political right. The inclusion of the boat was not simply an intellectual response to humanitarian issues, but was considered necessary as a pictorial device to threaten the stability of the family group. Accordingly, ‘Queenslanders’, in this sense, is metaphorical of old Australia being challenged by new Australia.
Figure 2: Queenslanders, Les Morgan, 1999
Asians were viewed by Hansonites as one homogenous group, and, as such brought disunity and division by swamping Australia. The group of ‘boat people’ are represented as Hanson would view Asians: literally faceless. In ‘Queenslanders’, the so-called illegals have their arms outstretched as if appealing for help, but they are ignored by the white family intent on posing for their picture, on their land. In this sense, my painting can be read as a critique of the Australian government’s policy concerning the processing of asylum seekers. However ‘Queenslanders’ also speaks to the racism and exclusion of the foreigner as ‘other’, but more specifically to fears of an invasion of Australia from the north. For the family depicted in ‘Queenslanders’, their home must be defended from the alien invasion.
The title of my painting, ‘Liberty leading the people’ 2001, (illus.3) was appropriated from Delacroix’s (1830) painting of the same name that commemorated the July Revolution. The original featured the allegorical figure of Marianne wearing the cap of Liberty and holding aloft a French Republic tricolour, (the symbol of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity) in one hand and a gun in another. The combination of nationalism and guns seemed fitting given One Nation’s attempt to repeal gun reforms as mentioned earlier. My ironic version of ‘Liberty’ substituted Hanson for Marianne, since she was deemed to be the heroic figure fighting for mainstream Australia. In the painting’s first state, I depicted Hanson holding an Aboriginal flag aloft, since I wanted to challenge her anti-Indigenous policies. I later repainted the entire canvas, and covered the Aboriginal flag with the Australian flag to depict Hanson’s position with regard to ‘mainstream Australians’. On reflection, my act of covering the Aboriginal with the Australian flag was indeed performing what Hanson proposed: that is, a version of equality that constructs everybody’s problems as the same since ‘it is flawed to essentially suggest some of our people are more Australian than others’ (Hanson 1998). Hanson’s ‘liberty’ was not liberty at all, because she favoured dispossession. Ang maintains, ‘The true natives of Australia are not the Aboriginal people, but people like herself, ordinary, white Australians’ (1999: 190) and it was this fact that is celebrated in my version of ‘Liberty’.
Figure 3: Liberty leading the people’, Les Morgan, 2001
The other reason for painting over the Aboriginal flag was that I felt that the genre of satire can often be problematic. In the final version of ‘Liberty’, I added the One Nation member for Caboolture, Bill Feldman MLA. Feldman was later to emerge as leader of the City-Country Alliance, a short-lived party that attracted disgruntled One Nation members. In the background lurks David Oldfield who was instrumental to the early success of One Nation before taking up a New South Wales upper house (legislative council) seat.
I depicted Hanson riding on the shoulders of a bearded man, since at rallies and on the campaign trail Hanson would often be hoisted onto the shoulders of a man and lauded. Apparently middle-aged men found ‘her public manner, [that combined] brave vulnerability and explosive temper, curiously intoxicating’ (Rothwell 1998: 162).
Hanson’s brand of liberty and equality was clearly designed to benefit her constituency, as well as Anglo-Celtic Australia, but ultimately it fostered resentment against those excluded from her imagined community. Whilst Marianne held the flagpole in celebration of liberty, Hanson’s determined hold on the Australian flag (she has in fact draped herself in it) was emblematic of her identification with her conception of national identity.
Some Queenslanders reacted to Indigenous visibility with anger, resentment and a sense of grievance. My painting ‘Red-neck, ride-on’ makes references to Queensland’s racialised frontier history through its use of western technology. The settlers’ use of guns on the Queensland frontier meant that Indigenous people were often subject to violence from the Native Police who frequently conducted punitive expeditions (Reynolds 1989: 49-51). In ‘Red-neck, ride-on’, a frontier mentality is depicted in terms of the men and their machines. An armed and bearded male on a ride-on mower pursues those who trespass on his land. Again, a John Deere (which I renamed Jim Crow after the segregationist American laws) mower and a rifle are powerful signifiers of white Australia’s control and mastery of a hostile frontier.
Control and proper maintenance of a mower is considered essential in Queensland; it is part of its culture. As a consequence, abuse and neglect of one’s mower is frowned upon as a violation of ideals, and is seen to be indicative of a paucity of morals. My inability to competently fix a mower and install and maintain paddock fencing, equates to my failure to assimilate, which is in turn proof that I don’t belong in Queensland. The neighbours tolerated me; some were helpful in that they pulled my car with their tractors from the driveway that became treacherous in wet weather. Nonetheless, from their perspective, I appeared disrespectful to their normative values, by not building an all-weather driveway.
Figure 4: Red-neck, ride-on, Les Morgan
In the New Testament, an ailing Lazarus dies before Jesus can reach him, but he is subsequently resurrected. In my ‘The Raising of Lazarus’ 2001 (illus.4), I have appropriated Tintoretto’s painting (which is in the Queensland Art Gallery collection) to depict Hanson as Lazarus rising amid a constellation of ‘shock-jock’ microphones. Hanson is represented in glamorous eveningwear, smiling in her trademark red lipstick and brandishing an automatic weapon. John Howard looks on with his back turned to the viewer; he is wearing an Akubra which is generally associated with cattlemen. Howard cleverly used One Nation to appear ‘moderate’, without condemning Hanson outright, thus providing the oxygen for the continuing support of Hanson’s One Nation party. The cosy relationship between Howard and Hanson (Dawson 2006) on issues concerning race and immigration is alluded to in ‘Lazarus’. Howard had previously embraced Blainey’s ideas on race, as he described them in his Warrnambool speech of 1984 as well as in his monograph All for Australia later that same year. Howard, who was elected to the leadership of the Liberal Party a year later in 1985, began to show signs of anti-Asian sentiment as a result. Thus Hanson’s views on immigration were in alignment with the Liberal and National parties in that she concurred that Asian immigration was changing the Australian way of life, that multiculturalism was creating a divided society, and that no special services should be available to migrants or Indigenous people. Howard reiterated the point in 1988 when he stated, ‘I’m a one nation man’ (Stratton 1998: 53), again clearly alluding to Calwell’s ‘White Australia’ (Stratton 1998: 80). Although Hanson’s ascendance takes centre stage in the painting, the most significant ‘resurrection’ relates to Howard’s own electoral success and political longevity.
Figure 5: The Raising of Lazarus, Les Morgan, 2001
I have made extensive iconographic use of Klansmen in the paintings I produced during the period 1995–2001. They appear as shadowy figures, sometimes contained within trees as they are in ‘Vigilante’ (illus.5), at other times they appear on the tips of a white picket fence, or even as part of the landscape. In ‘Lazarus’ they appear as part of the constellation, holding the microphones of bigotry. Representations of the Klan are not merely figurative, however, since they are alleged to be active in regional Australia (Rogers 2006).
Hanson’s response to swamping was to take on the role of gatekeeper, as represented in the ‘Ship’s Captain’ (illus.6). ‘[She felt] entitled in wanting to keep Asians out, especially if they “do not assimilate”’ (Ang 1999: 190). At the launch of One Nation’s immigration policy for the 1998 Queensland state election, Robyn Spencer said, ‘500 hundred illegal immigrants were flying in each week and that the Australian population would be 27 percent Asian in the next 23 years and could double if not checked’ (Meryment 1998b). Hanson’s anxieties were thus not about race per se, but about race and space. As the ship’s captain in the painting, Hanson is depicted as the moral barometer, signalling that Australia should not be letting in asylum seekers. Dressed in the ‘whites’ of the navy, she holds a telescope, her headgear resembles a ‘Napoleonic hat’, inside which is a crudely painted vessel, the Tampa. Peeping over the picket fence of fortress Australia is John Howard, whose boat sailed into Australian electoral waters in August 2001, turning round the Tampa at sea with its desperate human cargo, and winning the election for the coalition.
Figure 6: Ship’s Captain, Les Morgan
In the aftermath of Hanson, I began thinking of populist racism as a sleeping virus that emerges when the conditions are favourable. At the onset of the citrus-canker virus that affected Queensland’s growers in 2004, I constructed the virus – a virulent strain – as a metaphor for the spread of racism, bigotry and intolerance in Queensland. By this time, Hanson had moved to a less troubled, and troubling, career as a dancer on Channel Seven’s Dancing with the Stars, but her constituency was still there, still resentful and waiting for an issue or a leader with charisma who would once again expose the wound of bigotry and racism. In ‘The Citrus-canker grove’ I playfully portrayed Hanson as a snake or temptress in a citrus grove, lurking amongst the foliage; she is akin to a sleeping virus that erupts when the conditions are ripe.
The anger and apprehension that I felt, both personally and politically, as I encountered a resurgence of racism in Queensland provided the impetus, resistance and ideas for the creation of my new work. Migration to Australia ultimately forced me to rethink my diasporic positioning as an artist, and reasserted the importance of content as the rationale for the creation of my art. As a figurative painter, I required a subject that would force me to develop my work beyond a mere celebration of modernist paintingper se. The intervening years, spent living and working in far north Queensland and the Northern Territory prior to residing north of Brisbane, involved a renegotiation of my artistic identity, but did not produce work that was explicitly political. I can therefore credit Hansonism with providing a temporary resolution to my artistic identity crisis, since the effects of One Nation significantly impacted upon my view of Australia. As a consequence, my work became invigorated; it was a response to lived experience constitutive of my diasporic sensibility.
In terms of studio methods, I wanted to produce images that could be easily read, and this necessitated the development of a painting style that was more direct and economical than I had previously employed. Thus my practice shifted from using the high art methods adopted in Thorn in the Crown (1984)(illus.7) to the bad painting ofNeighbours: it is painted in an almost deadpan manner, like a cartoon, and bereft of painterly marks characteristic of my earlier work. Neighbours demonstrates how my diasporic perspective surfaces in the staging of a significant moment, based on lived experience that is preceded by the interrogation of its possible meanings. Furthermore, it would appear the very depiction of ‘the message’ or content engages in a dialogical tussle with the methods or form. In other words, Neighbours utilised the vernacular mode, a form of bad painting, both as method (graphic style) and subject (the everyday) to represent my experience of racism, thereby highlighting a development in my diasporic sensibility.
In order to reflect on my practice, I have utilised the work of key theorists to provide various explanations regarding Hansonism, from social, political and psychoanalytical perspectives. As a painter I did not wish to merely reiterate theoretical texts, but relied rather on everyday experience – albeit informed by the political process – to inform my work. My research process for these works was primarily informed by my personal experience as a displaced artist. My methods involved collecting and using press photographs to construct images; completing many drawings of weed in the paddocks, sourcing brochures on ride-on mowers and filing newspaper cuttings. The process of collecting material and drawings, though essential for my practice, is however never a guarantee for a successful aesthetic resolution. The shift in my practice, from the tropes of European modernist painting to the explicitness of bad painting, still involves an intuitive process, even though it is a fragile and somewhat dangerous labyrinth for a painter to rest upon.
Hanson undoubtedly contributed to my continuing artistic conundrum concerning subject matter for my art. As an artist fascinated by the social and political world, I was at a stage where the subject of my work became the rationale for painting. As a painter, I am aware of the limitations of my practice concerning social agency, however the relationship between art and politics means I cannot ignore social reality. On the contrary, my role is to bear witness through art. My process of creative production entails a certain ambiguity, which runs counter to a literal reading of what is represented. My art training has its roots in European figurative expressionism and it is through the manipulation of oil paint which is a tactile medium this that representation and meaning is wrought. Thus my studio practice has never been concerned with merely depicting a scene or portrait that can only be read in a literal way; I seek to engage with the poetics of painting and politics simultaneously. In so doing my diasporic sensibility surfaces as figurative, painterly and political.
To illustrate this point further: ‘Tears for talk-back’, (illus.8) is essentially a portrait of Hanson crying. It was inspired by her performance on the John Laws radio show when she was reduced to tears. ‘Tears’ reads as a portrait (a physical resemblance) but extends the boundaries of my figurative work by employing expressionist marks that allows the under-painting to peep through to describe form. Thus the image brings together both aspects of my practice: a planned approach to oil painting using under-painting techniques, learned from Adrian Heath and an intuitive, painterly bent, encouraged by former teachers, Arthur Berry and Arnold Van Praag. My own artistic identity and its diasporic sensibility emerge in this fusion. In ‘Tears’ I have scratched in text into the background and altered the folds of Hanson’s tissue to resemble Klansman. In so doing, I am not merely reiterating the genre of European expressionist painting but am using the pictorial language to challenge its very premises –perspective and hierarchy of subject – through the use of satire, albeit somewhat incongruously.
Figure 7: Tears for talk-back, Les Morgan
In summary, my experience of living in Queensland and teaching in Ipswich – which was Hanson’s backyard – proved formative for my work during the decade 1995–2005. In the light of my previous diasporic experience in Britain, I was forced to rethink my position on race in Queensland, as well as in the wider Australian context. Hansonism provided the social actors and a stage that was to be instrumental to the surfacing of my diasporic sensibility through the vernacular mode and its attendant bad painting.
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