When first observing the “Black Prints from Cicada Press” at the Kluge Ruhe, the print “let’s be polite about aboriginal art” by Vernon Ah Kee jumps out and sets the stage for the exhibit. The print is a simple black square with an aesthetically arranged column of text. The font is simple, it looks like Arial, and boldly proclaims “let’s be polite about aboriginal art.” The column of text is neatly stacked except for the word aboriginal which awkwardly extends into the surrounding black space. The word art beneath it seems minuscule by comparison. The witty and iconic language of Kee’s print is reminiscent of the impactful, sarcastic humor of street artists like Banksy and John Fekner. The print accomplishes exactly what it intends to, which is to point at the elephant in the room, in this case a kind of colonial bias in our vision of art created by aboriginal or native populations. This print proceeds to establish the artists in this show as clever, intellectual and aesthetic artists, who are grouped by the common but not defining fact that they are Australian aboriginals.
The prints on display are varied and generally quite stunning expressions of each individuals history or experiences. Many continue the use of the quick and iconic humor of street art, like Jason Wing‘s “Captain James Crook” and Reko Rennie‘s “Big Red.” Others are more meditative. One print by David Nolan shows the view from a window during his incarceration; spotted on the horizon are tiny airplanes ascending. The sense of architectural confinement is as great as the dream of flight and freedom. Another print by Laurel Nannup depicts a remembered image of her childhood home on the Pinjara Reserve which is childlike, eerily sparse, and utilitarian. Some are more subtle and abstract. Tess Allas‘s “dogma” is an elegant and simple image of a colored-in sphere. She highlights the metaphor of coloring inside the lines to explore the arbitrary rules and systems which we are made to conform with.
A few of the images are less approachable as they communicate more within a specific cultural context. Graham Blacklock‘s “Gunya 3” uses a pattern to depict the aerial representation of a type of dwelling called a humpy, but the layered rectangles become abstract and decorative. Without much context or experience of humpies the print appears more like a microscopic study or a choatic textural experiment. Another print by Frances Belle Parker is inspired by the aerial view of a specific island about which the artist has a multitude of feelings. The print however has few corresponding emotive or expressive elements beyond the flowing silhouette. Parker’s image mostly feels like one print from a separate series.
“Black Prints from Cicada Press” is a show with a sense of humor. The images are smart and very broad in their approaches to printmaking. Although the show currently has an appropriate home at the Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, many of the works would be at home in any art space.
The show contains works by Reko Rennie, Laurel Nannup, Gordon Hookey, Roy Kennedy, Tess Allas, Graham Blacklock, David Nolan, Frances Belle Parker, Jason Wing, Vernon Ah Kee and Brett Nannup. It was curated by Tess Allas. Mechael Kempson, the director of Cicada Press, and Tess Allas will both be present for the show’s opening on Friday, July 12 from 5:30–7:30 pm and the exhibit runs through August 18.
~Aaron Miller and Rose Guterbock