Gordon HOOKEY, A painting for the underdawg Enlarge 1 /1


Waanyi/Waanjiminjin peoples

Cloncurry, Queesnland, Australia born 1961

A painting for the underdawg 2005 Place made: Vincent, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Dimensions: 133.0 h x 250.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2005
Accession No: NGA 2005.613
Image rights: © Gordon Hookey

This large-scale canvas replete with a kaleidoscopic palette of primary colours: red, blue and yellow, is combined with overlaid orange text:

I used to chase cars

They said if I caught one

I would not know what to do with it

F F F Fuck ‘EM

I juss wanna

Prove ‘em Wrong

The canvas resembles a comic-book storyboard: a grinning, sunglasses-clad dingo (Hookey’s alter-ego) takes centre stage in a vignette-like portal. Above the canine in the top left-hand corner of the canvas, a speeding, shiny, flash, red car – emblazoned with ‘Flamin’ Jaffa’ (an Indigenous colloquial term for any fast red car, filled with dark/chocolate-skinned people) – is skimming across the road’s surface, the dingo at the wheel and two comely young Aboriginal women in the back seat. The car is travelling so fast that the roadside markers fly off in the car’s wake, and musical notes and empty VB stubby bottles are left in the vehicle’s jet stream.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

In his art Gordon Hookey mixes politics, double entendre and irony to make light of very serious situations facing contemporary Indigenous Australia. This is not done to trivialise real problems, but to offer a point of entry for discussing things that many would otherwise simply store in their ‘too hard basket’. His comic book like characters, use of blunt and often crass language, poetic devices and lurid visual jokes invite a range of viewers to engage with real politics and problems.

A painting for the underdawg 2005 immediately offers an icebreaker with a racial gag: central to the image is a fast red car emblazoned with the name ‘Flamin’ Jaffa’, a racial epithet for a red car full of black people. The main character, the Underdawg, a sunglass-wearing, beer drinking dingo, is cast in the painting as his name suggests—as the underdog, whose life constantly revolves around chasing cars and being told he would never catch them and, if he did, he wouldn’t know what to do with one. Undeterred he continues to chase cars and offers his motto inscribed across the painting. Here the triumphant Underdawg has ended up catching and owning his own car.

The painting reflects the popular ideology within Australian culture of supporting the underdog but, moreover, is a tableau of Aboriginal tenacity. The painting hints at Aboriginal self-determination, land control and governance, as many detractors have commented that even if Aboriginal people did get their land back, they wouldn’t know what to do with it or how to manage the country. This, however, will never stop the struggle for restitution. 

Bruce McLean

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010