John Hurrell – 11 November, 2020
Don't forget these were flags in a global survey: symbolic images of which each viewer could make up their own minds, for the image origins were listed in the catalogue. Flags which Power in her excellent essay refers to as ‘silly'. Such an insight is obvious if you don't happen to buy into identity politics.
People of Colour
16 October - 7 November 2020
Rich in saturated colour, this presentation by Mercy Pictures—with an essay from British cultural critic Nina Power—in the new multi-roomed Mercy Pictures Pitt St space, presented not only canvas ‘flags’ (on stretchers) of clashing hues but also contrasting political and ethical positions. It was wild with abrasive juxtapositions; brightly hued rectangles in vehement social opposition. Multiple toxicities (including white supremacist organisations) mingled with pockets of global pacificism or goodwill, or civic and international neutrality.
Within gridded formations on high walls that surrounded confining immersive spaces, the 430 horizontal oblong or square banners were linked to a wide range of organisations, individuals and countries. Some were disturbing and nasty, but overall—in my view—the work could be seen as an optically vibrant grid of assorted beliefs (very often extremist) that was not in itself promoting endorsements for violence.
Jostling and scrapping—Left, Right, Centrist, politically indifferent—a multitude of different malicious and kind-hearted emotions bumped and crashed: violence alongside peace; hatred with generosity; snarling aggression butted next to soothing benevolence; abusive vitriol sometimes with neighbourly concern. Banners, logos, national icons, bits of different languages, simplicity with complexity, modernist glyphs, and Victorian heraldry all abound. Lots of weapons and clenched fists. Some clasped hands, madonnas, crosses, and hammers and sickles. Multiple ideological contradictions were emphasised by jamming together all sorts of opposing religious, social, military and political groups.
For sure there was a high proportion of ‘ugly’ decals (from sinister organisations) but this reflected the world we are embedded in, what we see on the evening news. Awful groups we are told about every day.
The multi-interpretative title of the exhibition was clever, maybe provocative. Who were these ‘people of colour’? The flag-makers? Other communities they might hate? Perhaps a gallery audience who might be alarmed by the gallery’s presentation? Was it neccessarily a red rag to a bull to the ‘coloured’ or ‘rainbow’ communities? Had they no sense of humour with the absurdly jumbled juxtapositions? Was the project not a perverse joke?
Somebody obviously didn’t think so. As you probably know, the show created quite a ruckus because of its inclusion of certain repulsive alt right extremist memes. So much so that one of the directors of Mercy Pictures has publically apologised—possibly due to peer group pressure. I’m puzzled because I’ve always assumed that the Aotearoa New Zealand art community (er…art communities) consists of adults who respect other people’s opinions and accept that not everybody agrees (without resorting to enraged shouting if they don’t).
Don’t forget these were flags in a global survey: symbolic images of which each viewer could make up their own minds in terms of morality, for the image origins were listed in the catalogue. Flags which Power in her excellent essay refers to as ‘silly’. Such an insight is obvious if you don’t happen to buy into identity politics.
My personal view is that the gallery site is meant to be a place for forums that encourage bracing but respectful discussion, even if the exhibit includes calculated provocation or material that is openly obnoxious. The venue should not condone censorship, nor should it be fearful about giving offense, though it would be polite to warn incoming visitors they might find the displays disturbing. So they have the option of leaving.
But why would they? Gallery goers are not children, nor passive ‘vegetables’. A graphic symbol is obviously very different from what it represents. There is no automatic process at work of contagion being optically transmitted. Seeing the logos of hideously hateful groups might be upsetting but it isn’t going to corrupt.
Here are some links to other articles discussing this stimulating show: