oil on canvas
226 × 276 × 3.5cm
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006
Daniel Boyd’s painting We Call Them Pirates Out Here mocks the official history of white exploration and settlement by suggesting that one person’s explorer is another person’s pirate. This work is a parody of a famous 1902 history painting by Emanuel Phillip Fox depicting the 1770 landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay. Depicted as a marauding pirate, Boyd’s Cook claims possession of the land with his skull-and-crossbones Union Jack. No longer the heroic and civilised explorer of Fox’s painting, Cook becomes the anti-hero of an opposing narrative in which his landing is reframed as a moment of invasion and pillage for the original inhabitants.
This kind of reworking of significant historical works is a potent artistic tool for commentary on Australia’s history, past and present. In other works, such as Governor No Beard (2007), Boyd has presented a buccaneering narrative of Australian history in which Australia is a Treasure Island and Cook, the Enlightenment man, little more than a treasure hunter. In We Call Them Pirates Out Here Boyd has appropriated a powerful piece of propaganda. Fox’s history painting, commissioned soon after the federation of Australia, depicts Cook – and by extension, the nation – as an enlightened humanist who prevents his men from firing on two advancing Aboriginal warriors. In Boyd’s update, the warriors are replaced by two Xanthorrhoea grass trees, called ‘black boys’ by the colonists. Cook’s heroic gesture is thus emptied of meaning and we see the scene as an opportunistic land grab founded on the one-eyed myth that the country was uninhabited.
The landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillips Fox is such an iconic and important image relating to the birth of Australia. Shifting the proposed view of Fox’s painting to something that was an indigenous person’s perspective allowed me to challenge the subjective history that has been created.
Daniel Boyd, 2008
Born 1982, Cairns, Queensland. Lives and works Sydney.
Daniel Boyd reinterprets Eurocentric perspectives of Australian history, often appropriating images that have played significant roles in the formation and dissemination of that history.
Boyd has appropriated portraits of colonial figures such as Captain Cook, Governor Phillip and King George III and accessorised these heroes of empire with pirate eye patches, parrots and necklaces of skulls. Boyd has said, ‘questioning the romantic notions that surround the birth of Australia is primarily what influenced me to create this body of work. With our history being dominated by Eurocentric views, it is very important that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to create dialogue from their own perspective to challenge the subjective history that has been created’.[i]
Boyd has exhibited his work nationally and internationally since 2005. Selected group exhibitions include All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale, Venice (2015); Moscow International Biennale for Young Arts: A Time for Dreams, Moscow (2014); Bungaree: The First Australian, Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, Lake Macquarie (2013); The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2012); One Caption Hides Another, Bétonsalon, Paris (2011); We Call Them Pirates Out Here, MCA, Sydney (2010); Contemporary Australia: Optimism, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2008); and Culture Warriors: National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2007).
In 2010 Boyd was commissioned by the Queensland Government Public Art Fund to produce a major sculptural work, Seven Versions of the Sun, installed in Kangaroo Point Park, Brisbane.
Boyd’s work is held in the collections of the Natural History Museum, London; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; as well as numerous private collections in Australia.
[i] Daniel Boyd, artist statement for Culture Warriors: National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2007, www.nga.gov.au/exhibition/niat07/Default.cfm?MnuID=2&GalID=33432 (accessed 3 February 2015).Learn more