Beyond the Opening

-- Demystifying Contemporary Art --

TextaQueen | Between You and Me

Reflecting 15 years of investigation into ‘the Australian experience’, this exhibition boldly reflects a question ruminated by contemporary Australia: who do we want to be? TextaQueen challenges colonial attitudes towards whiteness, exoticism, and multiculturalism, oscillating between historical, cultural, religious and pop icons. In this exhibition TextaQueen challenges Australian national identity. It is straight to the point, humorous, poignant and relevant, and comes from the heart. Hop to it.

This is TextaQueen’s website.

She is represented by Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney.

Benalla Art Gallery is an essential stop on route to the high country, supplying coffee, cake and content for the rest of the drive. Strolling through the town gardens the long ramp takes me up to the entrance of the 1950’s building perched on the banks of a broad and full flowing river. I make a bee-line past the gift stall, through the café, noting the sweeping river view, and head for the lolly pink looping sign, ‘TextaQueen: Between You and Me’.

Wall 1

Two women share a bubble bath stare up at the viewer interrupted from reverie: brown skin, big eyes and cropped hair, bosoms afloat. Is it the same person? Are they lovers? Is this self-love? Then I note the didactics, ‘Keg and Texta share many things…including being sisters…” and a whole new meaning is shot. The bath they are in is turquoise with pink abstract patterned tiles, a ubiquitous yellow rubber duck and white cubie doll. Could this be the bath they grew up with?

At once this first work of the exhibition provides personal depth and cultural provocation overlayed with a good sense of humour - and the formula is repeated in each poster sized work dotting the gallery perimeter. This body of work draws you into TextaQueen’s personal life, it challenges Australian cultural attitudes, and then somehow she lightens the mood. The effect is a strong kind of push-pull experience.

TextaQueen’s hand drawn images are detailed with meticulous attention to the fibre tip pen ink line and mark. They are reminiscent of comic pictures, and due to their informal nature could be mistaken for large scale absentminded doodles - except for the potency and multilayered nature of the content.

‘Being Australian’ and bare breasted white women dominate this wall: a naked women sitting ‘side-saddle’ on another within a dressing room, wine glass and cigarette in hand, with the words, “What does PC mean?”; a women in dense bush with cocked shotgun in Ned Kelly armour, piercing eyes gaze through a rectangle slot, breasts exposed through another rectangle slot; and, naked women languidly perched in the fork of a eucalypt tree with ubiquitous miniature koalas clipped to her nipples, small branch in mouth, beer bottle in hand with the ‘Big Koala’ looking on and the words, “I do feel partially responsible for deforestation.”

Wall 2

This wall is a collection of work pertaining to heroes and idols. TextaQueen identifies with Josephine Baker (a black Parisian entertainer and activist from last century), who is depicted reclined wearing only her signature belt of banana’s. TextaQueen identifies herself as her own saviour: the TextaQueen superhero (in superhero outfit) lifting her naked self up and away into the blue sky. She identifies herself as someone healing from Catholicism, enrobed and surrounded by Catholic symbolism, she looks like Christ; but on inspection all that surrounds her are symbols of pre-colonial Indian religious spiritualties. I find these last two works incredibility intriguing. To me they represent the cultural and spiritual changes many societies are currently undergoing.

The final work of this wall is most engaging. Hidden around a corner, it is a picture of the front page of The Australian newspaper, TextaQueen pushing out, and the surrounding hand written article explicitly and passionately shares the experience of being brown in white Australia. This is what fuels her fire.

Wall 3

And this work neatly segues into Wall 3, which is the ‘Coconut Series’. It is so good to see racism in Australia directly addressed – and not by a person of Aboriginal, Torres Strait or European decent (TextaQueen is an Australian-born Goan Indian). All the works in this series are in a tropical beach environment: big blue skies, lilting palm trees, blond sand with lapping waves. They are like potent dreamscapes depicting themes of birthing, being birthed, producing and giving milk, being at one with animals such as the tiger or elephant, yet within the Australian political landscape - represented by Chicos1 and coconuts2. The TextaQueen’s in these works seem calm, focused and connected to the tropical beach environment and Indian animals.

Wall 4

This wall is completely different. It is a series of photographs of TextaQueen without her superhero outfit, without her Ned Kelly armour, Jesus robe, tiger or elephant: she is naked. On a remote beach TextaQueen emerges from and hides within dune vegetation, amongst driftwood, and drapes herself in giant kelp. The didactics state this is body of work is a response to consumerism and the fashion industry, but with consideration to the rest of the work, Wall 4 seems to me more a dialogue about the physical and cultural connectedness to Australia. Arriving from India TextaQueen represents a strong brown women finding her place on the shoreline of Boonwurrung country.

  1. Definition: dark brown baby-shaped chocolate flavoured jelly lollies

  2. Definition: ‘Coconut’ is derogatory slang meaning a person is ‘brown on the outside and white on the inside’, suggesting one is an outsider to both cultures.

This is a Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery touring exhibition.

If you didn’t catch it at Benalla Art Gallery, head up to Tweed Regional Gallery in Queensland where the exhibition will be showing from

8 December to 25 February 2017.