Published in The Expat Newspaper 3 August 2008
With its steady gaze, pierced nose, Chinese characters and white body paint, “Sexy and Dangerous I” is an iconic statement as much as it is a modern rendering of ethnographic photograph. Made by Brook Andrews, a Melbourne based indigenous artist, from a photo found in the Victorian capital’s Mitchell library, it is the quintessential work in his mini retrospective exhibition, Eye to Eye, currently on show at the Yuchengco Museum.
Earlier this year, Australia’s indigenous people, the aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples, obtained a long awaited recognition when the newly elected Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, offered an apology to the “stolen generations” after a decade of prevarication by his predecessor. It was a land marking occasion that not only grabbed world headlines but encouraged an atmosphere of reconciliation between the original inhabitants of the country and the dominant, mainly European, population.
“Sexy and Dangerous I” was made 12 years before this historic event and in part alludes to China’s Tiananmen Square protests seven years earlier. Not only in this work but in his other works, Andrew’s political references stand tall. For Andrews is a conceptual artist working with photography, sculpture, prints and neon installations and as such the message dominates. So much so that with his 2005 pop art inspired works like “Kalmaldain/Composer” they became graphic illustrations for the written word.
But like the NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week celebrations which prompted this exhibition’s Philippine exposure by the Australian Embassy, Andrew’s latest works are more aesthetically formal. As NAIDOC’s week long celebration of indigenous achievement grew from a day of protest and mourning in 1938, so too has Andrew’s 2006 Replicant series become less strident. These depictions of Australian wildlife, the parrot, the possum, the owl, all who have learned to co-exist within the imposed suburban environment, are presented in fleeting poses contrived in the artist’s studio. Although having the sensuality of his earlier work the danger has become somewhat muted.
“Eye to Eye” a survey of Brook Andrew’s work (1996 to 2006) is on display at the Yuchengco Museum, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Avenue, Makati City until 30 August.