Gawler, South Australia, Australia born 1978
Kangaroo and boomerang jumper
2002 Description: machine knit jumper with extremely long sleeves (blue, beige and white)
Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: textiles, 98% acrylic, 2% wool, machine-knit jumper
Christian Thompson is a young Bidjara/German-Jewish-Australian artist/curator, born in South Australia, whose people are from regional Queensland, south-west of Brisbane. Relocating to Queensland in his early teens, he has been based in Melbourne since 1999, initially as an art student, more recently an artist with a number of solo exhibitions under his belt, and turning his hand to curating exhibitions of other Indigenous photomedia artists. Thompson has rapidly emerged as a force to be reckoned with in new media art and technology.
Kangaroo and boomerang jumper and Marcia Langton are both from the series Blaks’ Palace, Thompson’s solo exhibition held during 2002 Melbourne Fashion Week. Thompson is one of many young, emerging Indigenous artists who challenge our very understanding of Australian identity and what it means to ‘be’ Australian. By reappropriating kitsch imagery of bygone times and reinvesting them with his own stylised intent, he subverts the safety net of icons that non-Indigenous Australians think we all ‘own’ – in this case, iconic images of native fauna and Indigenous tools. The boomerang has been appropriated as a logo by national airlines, real estate companies and, most recently, the Sydney Olympic Committee for Organising the 2000 Games.
The jumper is modelled with complete confidence by renowned Indigenous academic and activist, Marcia Langton, whose heritage is shared by the artist. Machine-knitted by professional machinists, the jumper is comprised of 98% polyester and 2% wool, in bilious colours, far removed from the brilliant palette of the Australian bush, which it purports to represent. The ridiculous sleeves can take on a myriad of meanings; they can be seen as constrictive, turning the item of clothing into a literal as well as a metaphorical straightjacket. The artist states:
Blaks’ Palace1 follows on from my previous work that challenges notions of Aboriginality manifested in an Anglo-Celtic or western artifice. This work speaks specifically of a particular era – the 1980s. However, the colours chosen for the jumpers reference powder pinks, sky blues and camel browns that so often decorate kitsch or tourist market objects referencing Indigenous people. I’m basically reinterpreting these 1980s items of clothing by making them in the residue of 1950s kitsch. The colours are very 1950s in terms of the Delft Blue, Australian pink and Camel. So, I’m also looking at the 1980s. People like me who grew up in the 1980s in regional Australia, well there was material like these jumpers being made – suggestive of Aboriginal culture but definitely not representative of what Aboriginal culture meant to Aboriginal people.
The title derives from my traditional country near Springsure in the Carnarvon Gorge [in Queensland]. Our traditional painting on the rock faces in the Gorge illustrates our [D]reaming and is a fertility site for women. Many blacks and whites in south-west Queensland call this place the Blaks Palace, inferring that this site is of immense beauty – it is for me.
Christian Thompson (2002) and Brenda L. Croft
1A term originally coined in the late 1980’s by Indigenous artist Destiny Deacon
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002