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Gordon Bennett

Untitled (dismay, displace, disperse, dispirit, display, dismiss)  1989

oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas

6 parts: 30 × 30cm each

Musuem of Contemporary Art, gift of Doug Hall, 1993

1993.281

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 demoralising 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’.

[1] Nicholas Zurbrugg, Visual Poetics: Concrete Poetry and its Contexts, Museum of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, 1989.

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, 1993

Gordon Bennett

– About the artist

Born 1955, Monto, Queensland. Lived and worked Brisbane. Died 2014, Brisbane.


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. Bennett was one of Australia’s most significant and critically engaged contemporary artists, addressing issues relating to the role of language and systems of thought in forging identity. He rejected racial stereotypes and freed himself from being categorised as an Indigenous artist by creating an ongoing pop art inspired alter ego, John Citizen, who he considered to be ‘an abstraction of the Australian Mr Average, the Australian Everyman’. In the late 1990s Bennett began a dialogue with the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a New York artist who shared with Bennett a similar western cultural tradition and an obsession with drawing, semiotics and visual language.

Throughout his career, Gordon Bennett achieved national and international recognition, with representation in biennales in Sydney (1992, 2000, 2008), Venice (1995), Kwangju (2000), Shanghai (2000), Prague (2005) and Berlin (2014), as well as the prestigious Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany (2012). His work has been included in major exhibitions in the Netherlands, USA, UK, Germany, Austria, Prague, Italy, Denmark, Canada, South Africa and Japan. His work is collected widely and is represented in major public art collections in Australia. The first monograph on his work, The Art of Gordon Bennett by Ian McLean, was published in 1997. A major survey of his practice toured Australian state galleries in 2007–09.

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