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Christian Bumbarra Thompson

Gamu Mambu (Blood Song)  2010

single-channel digital video, colour, sound

2:30 minutes

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2011


About the Artwork

Christian Thompson’s Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) is a single-channel video featuring a baroque opera singer performing a traditional Bidjara song. Thompson is a Bidjara man of the Kunja nation from Central West Queensland who references his Indigenous Australian and European heritage to engage with broader ideas regarding cultural identity. The complex multi-syllabic language sung in the overwrought and heavily cultured baroque style is unexpected, but also strangely mesmerising and enthralling. The Dutch performer sings straight to the camera against a coloured backdrop, evoking the simplicity of early performance video art from the 1970s. The translation of the lyrics into English at the bottom of the screen reveals a story that is simple but direct.

The minimal style of the video highlights the incongruity between the singer’s operatic performance, the complexity of the Bidjara language and the song’s bold narrative. The disjunction between the narrative and performance of the song confuses our understanding and comprehension of what it is we are seeing. Despite, or because of, the incongruity, the performance resonates emotionally. The power of Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) lies simply in the different interpretations of the song through performance and text. It is language taken from one source, reinterpreted and presented in a different context. It is also an affirmation of the power of the voice, a reminder that performance and song are powerful tools in communicating and understanding human culture.

My formal training is in sculpture and textiles but there has always been a desire to get close to real time. Photography, and latterly video and live performance, seemed like a very convenient way of documenting and demonstrating the performative nature of my sculptures. I tend to build images, rather than take photos or videos, and I use my body as an armature to do that. I definitely see the world through the eyes of my mixed heritage, and while I think of myself as a contemporary artist first, I am constantly remixing and reconfiguring the world through my lived experiences. So my background is a very important part of that.

Christian Thompson, 2013

Christian Bumbarra Thompson

– About the artist

Born 1978, Gawler, South Australia. Bidjara people. Lives and works Oxford, United Kingdom.

Christian Thompson’s work explores identity, cultural hybridity and history. Using sculpture, performance, photography, video and sound he explores sexuality, gender, race and memory through performances and conceptual self-portraits. Thompson made history when he became the first Aboriginal Australian to be admitted to the University of Oxford in 2010. Thompson has exhibited widely nationally and internationally. Selected solo shows include Polari, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne (2014); Pagan Sun, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne (2013); We Bury Our Own, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne (2012); King Billy, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne (2011); Heat, Chalk Horse Gallery, Sydney (2010); Lost Together, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne (2009); Australian Graffiti, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne (2008); and The Sixth Mile, Chalk Horse Gallery, Sydney (2007).

Selected group exhibitions include Contemporary Indigenous Art in Australia: The Sordello Missana Collection, Valencian Institute of Modern Art, Valencia, Spain (2012); Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, Plugin Institute of Contemporary Art, Canada (2011); The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age, 17th Biennale of Sydney (2010); Culture Warriors: National Indigenous Art Triennial, American University, Washington DC, USA (2009); Schittering-Brilliance, Aboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands (2007); and Terra Incognita, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne (2006).

Thompson’s work is held in numerous collections nationally and internationally, including major state and regional galleries in Australia; the Aboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht, the Netherlands; and Wagner-Owen Collection, North Carolina, USA.

Learn more

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