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Ritual Intimacy exhibition by Christian Thompson

Ritual Intimacy is the latest art exhibition by Christian Thompson, an Indigenous contemporary artist of the Bidjara People, renowned for his art pieces that explore and intersect with colonialism, LGBTQIA+ issues, cultural identity and racism throughout history and its modern context. Currently showing at John Curtin Gallery at Curtin University, the exhibition includes an extensive body of work built up over the past decade of experiences in both Australia and abroad.

After studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Thompson undertook his masters at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance at the University of Amsterdam, before pursuing his PhD at the University of Oxford as one of the first Aboriginal Australians to study at the university in its 900-year history. Thompson’s artwork has been exhibited all over the world including Thailand, Spain, United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, and he was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the visual arts sector as a sculptor, photographer, video and performance artist, and also as a role model for young Indigenous artists.

Christian Thompson
Image: Christian Thompson

Ritual Intimacy is a combination of photography, moving imagery and the unique use of sound. Situated within a labyrinth of corridors, galleries and atriums, it’s easy to be immersed amongst the signs and sounds of Thompson’s work. Film pieces such as ‘Heat’ (2010), a three-channel digital video featuring the three granddaughters of Indigenous rights pioneer Charlie Perkins, creates captivating imagery of the young women’s hair blowing against a tanned coloured background, which represents the desert surroundings of Barcaldine, Central West Queensland where Thompson grew up. Thompson stated that: “I love the mysticism and the seductive cruelty of the desert, my home, and how it can be so elusive and alluring and potentially life-threatening.


Image: Video still of ‘Heat’- Christian Thompson

As a formally trained sculptor, Thompson’s photographic work often consists of layers of symbolism which play an extensive role in his art. The series such as ‘We bury our own’ (2012) examines the historical plundering of Indigenous artefacts in disciplines such as anthropology and archaeology, by exploring the impacts of colonisation on Indigenous people. During Thompson’s time at Oxford, he was invited to work with the Pitt Rivers Museum Australian photographic collection which inspired Thompson to coin the term ‘spiritual repatriation’. He did this while creating this series of photographic works featuring Thompson obscured by objects such as a model of the ship the ‘Mary Rose’.

 


Image: ‘Invaded Dreams’ from We Bury Our Own – Christian Thompson

Thompson’s work showcases his vulnerability as an artist, as well as his academic and creative growth. In ‘Refuge’ (2014), a single-channel video, Thompson sings a pop interpretation of his earlier work ‘Dhagunyilangu’ (Brother) (2011) in the traditional language of Bidjara, after gaining confidence as a vocalist during his studies at the DasArts Academy in Amsterdam. The use of music and language in Ritual Intimacy is evident in several bodies of Thompson’s work, including pieces such as ‘Healing Circle’ (2013), ‘Decent Extremist’ (2010) and his more recent work ‘Berceuse’ (2017). Throughout the work, the traditional language of Bidjara is sung or spoken, often in compelling ways that intertwine with the exploration of identity in the modern world, with film works such as ‘Berceuse’ (2017) symbolising his maternal Sephardic Jewish roots in the lullaby Nani Nani. Thompson explores the notion that if traditional languages such as Bidjara are spoken, then they remain a living language.

Christian Thompson currently splits his time living between Melbourne, Australia and London, UK after spending a decade living throughout Europe. Ritual Intimacy is on exhibition at John Curtin Gallery between 11am and 5pm on weekdays and 12-4pm on Sundays until the 21st of July 2019 and is free to attend. For more information see: https://jcg.curtin.edu.au/.

 

Words by Dominique Chapman

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