The story behind Amala Groom's NATSIAA 2020 artwork is a fascinating one.
Her piece titled The Fifth Element is a reappropriation of a famed colonial painting by celebrated artist Frederick McCubbin - it reflects the turmoil of our reality, a conceptual intervention into the Australian canon of art history.
Groom found a print of the famed artwork Down on His Luck, discarded in an Aldi carpark near her home midway between the bushfire crisis and the COVID 19 pandemic. It was early March, she did not know what was around the corner. No one did.
Yet she boldly painted the words in vivid red paint: ‘We Are All in This Together’. How very right she was.
Ahead of the announcement of the winners of the NATSIAAs, Groom shares with us her thoughts on unpacking colonialism and spiritual awakenings.
Are we really all in this together...
"I was not to know that when I made the work that COVID 19 would happen the way it has. That ‘we’re all in this together’ would become this horrible political weaponising of language that ended up irking so many people," Groom says
"I made a work in 2016 called We're All in This Together and it's in the footer of my emails and on the top of my biography so it's not like it's a new thing for me to say. The reason why I make art is to unpack the philosophy of colonialism and I am constantly making this argument that the Colonial Project is not just disadvantageous for Aboriginal peoples - it is in fact antithetical to the human experience.
The system is broken and from every single possible perspective it does not work for anybody - it is just that for us as First Peoples we have a way of living that does work and our way in 2020 is still not being embraced, recognised or supported the way it needs to be - which is politically and socially devastating for Aboriginal peoples and is spiritually and culturally devastating for all Australians.
So in that regard, we are all stuck in the same boat, we are all in this together whether we like it or not. It is crucial to recognise here that there are obviously different experiences and privileges and advantages for some people in the boat than others which is why it is integral to continually address substantive equality. If you do not know what that means then Google it."
On her NATSIAA 2020 finalist piece...
"The Fifth Element is an interrogation into the canon of Australian national identity through colonial art history and how so much of our Australian identity is focused in these particular images of heroism and forging this new frontier devoid of any real cultural backbone.
"In what can only be considered as ‘uncertain times’, and, with the impending events of the 250 years of colonial commemoration upon us, this work seeks to act as a demonstrative reminder that we are ngumbaay-dyil (all together in one place - “all are one”). The artwork ultimately has a message which embraces love and inclusivity."
A spiritual wake-up call...
"You know, in a kind of a way I actually felt that, in my painting text over Frederick McCubbin’s Down on His Luck, I was giving that old bushie a bit of a cuddle. As Wiradyuri we can see the Colonial Project, we can see the boat and to me it felt like McCubbin's subject could not see it and that he was in a really bad spiritual way because of it which is why I wanted to give him a hug. I could really empathise with him as a representation of Australian society being spiritually and culturally lost while living on the lands of the oldest continuous cultures on Earth and being blind to embracing that.
"And maybe that's also because as a Wiradyuri woman, I feel incredibly privileged to have a really strong connection to where I am from and who I am and to intrinsically experience and understand that there are different ways of being and living and existing that are outside of the limitations of Western society.
"It is a really beautiful thing to embrace Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal spirituality and maybe McCubbin's subject wasn't doing that just yet. Maybe a lot of Australians are still not doing that just yet and maybe that is the real reason why we are all facing this global pandemic right now. Maybe the pandemic is a spiritual wake up call for everyone in the world to see the boat that is colonialism and to do the labour that is required in collectively dismantling the broken system by truly embracing love and kindness, the collective over the individual and our feelings over our intellect.