Step into the Art Gallery of NSW right now and you'll eventually meet Richard Bell's 2009 artwork Pay The Rent. Given its sheer size, it's unlikely you would miss it, but the writing – a white, paint-splattered popular Land Rights slogan – demands your attention, and for good reason. Bell is one of Australia's most important artists, like the man holding the brush, his work is direct and sardonic with a signature take-no-prisoners approach; a necessary tactic in a country that's content with burying its head in the sand about our shared history.
In the much-anticipated documentary You Can Go Now, UTS Professor, Academic and filmmaker Larissa Behrendt paints a portrait of Richard Bell who self-describes in the trailer as an "activist masquerading as an artist," while also endeavouring to capture Richie the "sensitive" and "fiercely intelligent" man.
Born in Charleville, Queensland, and belonging to Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang peoples, Behrendt traces how Bell's relationship to activism began at age 15, when his house was bulldozed before his eyes. From there he found himself undergoing a formative political awakening where he would become enmeshed in the Redfern and Canberra-based land rights movements, and ultimately a lifetime of activism.
You Can Go Now also covers his friendship and collaborations with Emory Douglas, a Black Panther known as the ‘Revolutionary Artist, as well as his searing and influential Bell’s Theorem that challenges the very notion of so-called Aboriginal art, labelling it a white invention defined by the colonial powers who benefit most from it.
Although You Can Go Now premiered at Adelaide Film Festival earlier this year, an official release date for the film is yet to be announced. While we wait, you can preview the trailer for the documentary below. Otherwise, why not pay a visit to AGNSW to experience Richard Bell's work in the flesh?
Image: Adelaide Film Festival