Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006
oil on canvas
H 226 W 276 D 3.5cm
The reworking of significant historical works is a potent artistic tool for commentary on Australia’s history, past and present. Aboriginal artist Daniel Boyd examines colonial narratives in Australian art, from heroic depictions of Captain Cook to encounters between Aboriginal Australians and European settlers. Boyd draws inspiration from late 18th and 19th century paintings held in public collections, reworking them in subtle and provocative ways. Within Boyd’s wider narrative scene, historically celebrated explorers and colonisers are portrayed as buccaneers and profiteers, their triumphant Union Jack flags transformed into hybrid Jolly Rogers with sinister skulls and cross-bones.
Boyd’s parody of the British colonial invasion of New South Wales, with its reversal of terms – We Call them Pirates Out Here – responds to Emanuel Phillip Fox’s Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 commissioned and painted in 1902, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Boyd’s work takes on the complex histories of the site of Cook’s landing as both a moment of conquest by the English explorer, and the moment of invasion for the original inhabitants.
In Boyd’s painting, as in the work of Fox, we see Cook stepping to shore. Whilst in Fox’s work Cook is the symbol of civilised English culture, for Boyd, Cook becomes a pirate ready to take part in the great colonial land grab. Boyd has inserted the faces of his friends as the ship’s crew, hoisting the flag whilst Cook surveys the scene with his one-eye. Smoke in the far distance is evidence of an inhabited land in direct contrast to Cook’s taking of the land and the later proclamation of it as Terra Nullius.
The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillip Fox is such an iconic and important image relating to birth of Australia. Shifting the proposed view of Fox’s painting to something that was an Indigenous person’s perspective allowed for me to challenge the subjective history that has been created.
Daniel Boyd, 2008