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Juan Davila

Portrait of Bungaree  1991

screenprint on paper

241 × 160cm overall

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased 1992


About the Artwork

Portrait of Bungaree is an example of Juan Davila’s distinctive and dramatic collage paintings from the 1980s and 90s. It features quotations from art history and popular culture, and connects with a history of hybrid modernism in Latin America, where Davila was born.

Bungaree was an Australian Aboriginal man who came from Broken Bay, just to the north of Sydney. He was a familiar figure in early colonial Sydney, who welcomed the newly arrived to his land on Sydney Harbour and acted as a mediator between the European and Indigenous communities. Bungaree accompanied Matthew Flinders during his circumnavigation of Australia, from 1801 to 1803, playing a key role in the survey’s success as interpreter and negotiator with Indigenous groups along the coast.

In Portrait of Bungaree, Davila uses multiple and fragmented references to question the hierarchies applied to images and cultural material, challenging the dominance of European and American art from the perspective of Chile (Davila’s birthplace) and Australia, where he later lived. For many years Davila has brought to high art the visual language of the street: tarot cards, comic strips, pornography, political cartoons and cheap souvenirs. His subjects are often people of ambiguous gender, mixed race or, as is the case with Bungaree, marginalised social status. In Portrait of Bungaree and other works Davila questions public attitudes to identity and sexuality, presenting incisive analyses of what he views as the complacency, monotony and questionable ethics of much contemporary culture.

Juan Davila

– About the artist

Born 1946, Santiago, Chile. Lives and works Melbourne.

Over the last three decades Juan Davila’s paintings have interrogated cultural, sexual and social identities, resulting in a rich, complex and provocative body of work. Davila’s work has been shaped by the political upheaval during the Pinochet dictatorship of Chile in the 1970s, conveying the violence and psychological turmoil its citizens experienced. A distrust of nationalism and state control has formed a strong thread in Davila’s work ever since, extending to stinging and often hilarious critiques of the Australian political system, aspects of government policy, and public figures in Australia and Latin America.

Davila has exhibited widely throughout Australia, South and North America, and Europe since the 1970s and was included in the Biennale of Sydney (1982, 1984); Popism, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (1982); and Perspecta, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (1983, 1987). Other exhibitions include The Moral Meaning of Wilderness, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, Griffith University Art Gallery, Brisbane and Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra (2011); Premonitions: Monash University Collection 1961–2007, McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park, Langwarrin, Victoria (2008); Andy and Oz: Parallel Visions, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (2007); Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany (2007); This & Other Worlds: Contemporary Australian Drawing, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (2006); and Arte Contemporaneo Chile: Desde el Otro Sitio/Lugar, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul and Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Santiago, Chile (2006). Davila’s work was the subject of a retrospective at the MCA, Sydney and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne in 2006. A substantial monograph on his work, Juan Davila, was published by Miegunyah Press, Melbourne in 2006.

Davila is represented in numerous major state, regional and public collections in Australia, as well as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo in Spain.

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