Celebrating NAIDOC Week with two generations of Indigenous art
This year NAIDOC Week runs from 5 to 12 July and is a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements. It also gives us an opportunity to recognise the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to our country and our society. In recent years the museum has acquired some important Indigenous artworks and so this year, for NAIDOC Week, we have decided to spotlight two Indigenous artists, Kevin Gilbert and Michael Cook, and their contributions to political debate through art.
Two generations of artists
Michael Cook and Kevin Gilbert represent two generations of Indigenous artists from different parts of the country and very different backgrounds. However they had much in common. Kevin Gilbert (1933-1993), from the Wiradjuri nation, was orphaned very young and suffered racism and harassment as child and young man. He became an artist while in gaol, and wrote books and poetry to express his political ideas. Michael Cook is a much younger man, raised by white adoptive parents in Queensland, but taught to identify with his people, the Bidjara, from an early age. He worked as a commercial photographer for many years, slowly coming to identify with his Aboriginality and then, in the mid 2000s, becoming a fulltime photographic artist, expressing his Aboriginal heritage through his work.
Despite the differences in their backgrounds, both Cook and Gilbert have used art to express pride in their Aboriginal heritage and as a means of political expression. The Gilbert works owned by the museum — Massacre Mountain, Christmas Eve in the Land of the Dispossessed, and Colonising Species — pull no punches in their depiction of genocide, cultural dispossession and the loss of land. They are stark and confronting, reflecting Kevin Gilbert’s attitude towards racism and government interference in Indigenous matters. Michael Cook’s works — Majority Rule (Senate) and Majority Rule (Parliament) — are equally political but arguably less confronting. Cook’s approach is one of creating understanding and asking his audience to question established norms. These two attitudes to confronting the difficult issues of white/Indigenous Australian relations are both legitimate and the resulting works have much to teach visitors. The museum is pleased to highlight these artists and their work, not just for NAIDOC Week, but into the future as well.
The collections of Kevin Gilbert and Michael Cook works are available on the museum’s website: