About the Artwork

Gordon Bennett’s work Untitled (dismay, displace, disperse, dispirit, display, dismiss) uses word and image to explore language as a tool with which the colonisers of Australia subjugated the country’s original inhabitants. Viewing the work at the MCA, near the site of the landing of the First Fleet, gives it even greater resonance, showing as it does the process of displacement and dislocation that followed the arrival of the ships in Sydney Cove.

Bennett has combined six key scenes in the process of colonisation – the arrival of the fleet, the raising of the Union Jack, the murder, imprisonment and demoralizing of Aboriginal people – with stencilled words that stamp the brutality of that process. Using a palette that successively darkens from white to black, he tracks the dismay of Aboriginal people at the invasion of their land to their dismissal as inhabitants of it, using the visual and verbal language of oppression that was integral to the colonising process. To ‘dis’ something in English means not only to disrespect – when used as a prefix it reverses and undoes the meaning of the root word, and can thus “refer to negation, opposition, separation, or deprivation.”[1] The repetition of ‘dis’ in each word in Untitled (dismay, displace, disperse, dispirit, display, dismiss) sets up a rhythm; a beat which marches in grim lockstep with each image to its termination in the empty black square of ‘dismiss’.

Artist Statement

I wish to reinstate a sense of aboriginal people within the culturally dominant system of representation as human beings, rather than a visual representation that signifies the ‘primitive’, the ‘noble savage’, or some other European construct associated with black skin.[2]

References

[1] Nicholas Zurbrugg, Visual Poetics: Concrete Poetry and its Contexts, Museum of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, 1989.
[2] Gordon Bennett, quoted in “Aesthetics and Iconography: An Artist’s approach”, in Aratjara: Art of the first Australians, Cologne, 1993, p 87.

I wish to reinstate a sense of Aboriginal people within the culturally dominant system of representation as human beings, rather than a visual representation that signifies the ‘primitive’, the ‘noble savage’, or some other European construct associated with black skin.

Gordon Bennett, quoted in ‘Aesthetics and Iconography: An Artist’s approach’, in Aratjara: Art of the first Australians, Cologne, 1993, p 87

Gordon Bennett

– About the artist

b.1955 d.2014

Born in 1955 in Monto, Queensland, Gordon Bennett lived and worked in Brisbane before his unexpected death in 2014. His bold and humane art challenged racial stereotypes and provoked critical reflection on Australia’s official history and national identity.

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