From The Australian’s Strewth column, February 5, 2010
WONDERFUL news from Adelaide: it is not grinding poverty, mind-numbing substances, or appalling violence that torment some Aboriginal communities, but commodity fetishism. A planned anthropology and visual arts seminar at the University of South Australia, called Twisting Mirrors, will explore the “mimetic instruments by which current social policy and journalism in Australia construct a ‘performance’ of a degraded indigenous social condition in order to justify ongoing state intervention in indigenous lives”. Participants are also asked to consider whether Aboriginal people have been empowered by the visual arts or “in the enthusiasm of providing indigenous artists with a space of their own, through their art, does this in fact subject both art and artist merely to the reinifaction of a pervasive regime – that of commodity fetishism – every bit as encapsulating, restrictive and normative as the colonial regimen from which it emanates”. Organiser Suzi Hutchings is hoping to create “an interstitial space for critical dialogue”. For all of our sakes, we can only hope she succeeds.
Letter to The Australian, February 8, 2010:
DEAR Dr Hutchings,
I was interested to read of the “Twisting Mirrors” seminar that you are organising. The Australian (Strewth, 5/2) reports that the exhibition will explore the “mimetic instruments by which current social policy and journalism in Australia construct a `performance’ of a degraded indigenous social condition in order to justify ongoing state intervention in indigenous lives”.
Tonight, while I write this, I’m the doctor saddled with nightshift at Tennant Creek Hospital, some 2000 km north of your hallowed hall of academia. Beside me is a child with nowhere to go because his family members are blind drunk. The parade of the bleeding and bashed has begun. Hanging in the night air is the sickly sweet stench of blood and alcohol, cut by the plaintive wails of beaten humanity. The suffering is enormous but is accepted and even expected by its victims. Working here is like dodging punches in a teeming public bar while stitching smashed faces. The starving babies hardly get a look-in.
There is no need to “construct a performance” of a degraded indigenous social condition. All around me the indigenous social condition is utterly appalling. The more journalism explores the indigenous social condition, the better. Australians should be aware and ashamed. I think that ivory-tower liberals should stop wasting public money that would be better spent improving housing, health and education in indigenous communities. Quit arguing with fancy language and wake up to the harsh reality. We all bleed the same colour.
I will not be attending your seminar. I wish I had the luxury.
Dr Dean Robertson
Tennant Creek Hospital, NT