Richard Bell to Deliver Kluge Distinguished Lecture at U.Va.

April 14, 2010
April 14, 2010 — Aboriginal artist Richard Bell will deliver the John W. and Maria Tussi Kluge Distinguished Lecture in Arts and Humanities at the University of Virginia on April 21 at 6 p.m.

The lecture, "Talking the Talk," will be held in Campbell Hall, room 153, followed by a reception with the artist at the U.Va. Art Museum.

The lecture is open to the public. Reservations for the reception can be made by calling 434-244-0234. Free parking is available after 5 p.m. in Culbreth Parking Garage.

When Bell won the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2003, it was not without irony. Emblazoned across his winning entry, "Scientia E Metaphysica," were the words "Aboriginal Art – It's a White Thing." Accompanying the painting was "Bell's Theorem," a treatise disavowing the very existence of an Aboriginal art industry.

According to Bell, Aboriginal art has become a commodity controlled and exploited by non-indigenous people. There is plenty of blame to go around, he said – from anthropologists, whose primary concern seems to be advancing theories and publishing books, to consumers, whose preference for "dot painting" has disenfranchised urban Aboriginal artists, who are seen as not "authentically Aboriginal."

Since 2001, Bell has appropriated the styles of pop art icons such as Jackson Pollack, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein.

"I've had a good art education," Bell said. "I'm appropriating because I can. It's an accepted part of art practice. I also see it as the colonized colonizing the colonizer."

Bell describes himself as "more an activist than an artist" and said he is at his most effective when confronting issues such as racism in Australian culture. In Bell's recent film, "Scratch an Aussie," he portrays a black Sigmund Freud psychoanalyzing a cadre of blond Australian teenagers. They are oblivious both to their overt racism, highlighted in a word-association scene in which the word "genocide" draws a blank, and to Bell's exploitation; charging $1,000 an hour, he has no intention of curing them.

If this blindness is interpreted as commentary on the current state of reconciliation with Indigenous Australians, Bell's humor and considerable charisma make the bitter pill easier to swallow.

Bell was born in 1953 in Charleville, Queensland, and is a member of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities. He is represented in major collections in Australia and is internationally recognized through numerous exhibitions, including the European touring exhibition "Aratjara: Art of the First Australians," 1993; "Culture Warriors," The National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, 2007; the 9th and 16th Sydney Biennales, 1992 and 2008.

His work was the subject of the survey exhibition "Positivity," presented by the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, in 2006. A past member of the Campfire group, Bell is a founding member of proppaNOW, a Brisbane-based Aboriginal artists collective.

"Scientia E Metaphysica" is currently touring the U.S. in a retrospective exhibit of Bell's work while he undertakes an international fellowship with Location One in New York. 

— By Jane Ford