Robert CAMPBELL JNR, Abo history (facts) Enlarge 1 /1


Ngaku people

Australia 1944 – 1993

  • The Philippines 1988

Abo history (facts) [Aboriginal History (Facts)] 1988 Place made: Kempsey, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas

Dimensions: 130 h x 200 w cm framed (overall) 1273 h x 2358 w x 40 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1988
Accession No: NGA 88.1535
Image rights: Courtesy of Rolsyn Oxley9 Gallery

Abo history (facts) 1988 is characteristic of Campbell Jnr’s narrative style using cartoon-like frames to depict an Aboriginal version of Australian history. Poignantly, this history of Australia was painted in 1988, the 200th anniversary of European settlement in the country. The frames, read from top left to right, tell the story of the arrival of the first ‘tall ships’ into pristine Indigenous environs: the coming of the white men on horses, the battle over Indigenous lands and the clearing of forests for farming and raising cattle. The central row features the era of government-run missions and reserves, representing a time in the artist’s own youth, growing up at the Burnt Bridge Aboriginal Mission outside Kempsey in rural northern New South Wales. Next is the account of Aboriginal people being moved from traditional life, from their seasonal humpies, to permanent dormitories; the rationing of food and basic supplies; tilling the land under the overseer; and mixing with whites fishing and hunting in the Macleay River. In the lower four frames the artist shows compelling scenes of the effect of colonisation: the denial of blacks from entering the local swimming pool; having to show a ‘dog tag’ to be served alcohol at a bar;[1] segregated at the cinema; the burning of the mission houses in protest over substandard conditions; the high incidence of incarceration; and deaths in custody of Aboriginal youth.

The painting’s background patterning, figurative elements, colours and stylistic conventions are based on traditional Ngaku clan designs found on boomerangs and shields, while the ‘red ‘tie’, or oesophagus, on all human and animal figures is a symbol of life.

Avril Quaill

[1] A ‘dog tag’ was an official certificate of exemption that allowed some Aboriginal people access to certain rights enjoyed by white Australians.

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

Robert Campbell Jr was among the first wave of urban-based Aboriginal artists who rose to prominence in the late 1980s. His career was cut short by his death in 1993 at the age of 49, highlighting the short life expectancy of many Aboriginal men due to poor health and poverty.

Early in his artistic career Campbell collaborated with Australian artist Tony Coleing, who encouraged Campbell with his painting. Campbell used his success to support the efforts of other artists, and to comment on the dispossession of his people.

His powerful paintings challenge the accepted history of first contact, massacres and mission life, and depict critical political events of his lifetime, such as the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy opposite Old Parliament House in 1972, and the publicity given to Aboriginal deaths in custody following the Royal Commission established in 1989. Yet Campbell also painted nostalgic images of his country—scenes of hunting and gathering bush tucker, and portraits of Aboriginal people whom he admired.

Campbell’s comic-strip style and day-glo palette belie the tough subject matter of this, his most renowned painting.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

小坎贝尔·罗伯特 (CAMPBELL JNR, Robert)
《原住民历史(事实)》(Abo history (facts))
130.00(高) x 200.00(宽)厘米

创作于1988年的《原住民历史(事实)》体现了典型的小坎贝尔叙事手法,即使用卡通化画面描述原住民版本的澳大利亚历史。令人辛酸的是,这一澳大利亚历史画作完成于欧洲人定居澳大利亚200周年的1988年。画面从左上角向右解读,描述了“高桅横帆船”首次抵达原始土著人领地的情形:白人骑马而来,争夺土著人土地的战斗,砍伐森林用于农耕和放牧。中幅刻画了官办教区与保护区时代,代表了艺术家本人的青年时期,在新南威尔士北部农村地区肯普西(Kempsey)郊外的Burnt Bridge原住民教区长大成人。接下来,讲述了原住民被迫放弃传统生活,离开季节性的原始小棚屋,搬入永久性宿舍;食物配给和基本用品;在工头的监督下耕作以及混迹于白人之中在麦克利河(Macleay River)捕鱼狩猎的情形。下幅的四个画面中,艺术家展示了殖民影响的场景,引人注目:拒绝原住民黑人进入当地游泳池;必须出示“狗牌”(身份识别证)才可以在酒吧买酒喝;影院里被隔离;抗议低劣条件活动中烧毁宣教屋;频繁遭监禁;以及原住民青年死于拘留所。


Avril Quaill

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra