OK Democracy, We Need to Talk, new exhibition at Campbelltown Arts Centre

The Press Society | 12-Apr-2019
MAY 18: Campbelltown Arts Centre's new exhibition OK Democracy, We Need to Talk presents an open discussion about democracy and its optimistic future - or potentially - its demise. Timed to the Australian federal election, the exhibition highlights new commissions by eleven artists, unpacking themes surrounding identity politics, environmental politics, political structures, economies of labour, currency and nationalism.
Venue: Campbelltown Arts Centre
Address: 1 Art Gallery Rd, Campbelltown NSW 2560
Date: Saturday May 18 - Wednesday July 31
Web: http://c-a-c.com.au/ok-democracy-we-need-to-talk/
OK Democracy - We Need to Talk
Image credit: Abdullah MI Syed, 1US$ George Washington Coat (Capital Couture Series), 2019. Photograph by Abdullah MI Syed. Courtesy the artist.
In contemporary times, traditional values and perspectives of democracy are continually being challenged and questioned. OK Democracy, We Need to Talk is a conversation and a provocation that suggests an ambition for change through the exploration of how democracy is performed in its current state.

Drawing inspiration from the idea of free media as a pillar of democracy, artists consider how the dissemination of information has never been easier. The ability to speak and to be heard is increasing with the evolution of technologies and alternative information platforms that are in consistent negotiation with power in all its forms - for better and for worse.

Michael Dagostino, Director - Campbelltown Arts Centre, says: 'It is important that our cultural institutions speak to our communities and that we are a part of critical conversations. Democracy is at a critical point, due to seismic shifts in the media, trust in institutions and capacity for individual and collective participation; therefore Campbelltown Arts Centre provides the perfect platform for OK Democracy, We Need to Talk'.

Located on the edge of Sydney, Campbelltown Arts Centre (C-A-C) is South-West Sydney's major cultural facility. It is situated on Dharawal land and is owned by Campbelltown City Council.


Pakistani-born, Western Sydney-based artist Abdullah MI Syed presents two new commissions, including a series of garments made from real currencies. These garments are the same as those worn by the leaders that feature on the bank notes from which they are made. This series of works reflects the power invested in these individuals, immortalised forever in their respective currency. His second work includes a series of paper garments worn by performers at the launch of the exhibition. These new garments reference the paper dresses used in President Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, boldly styled with popular political slogans such as "fair dinkum", an Australian-slang phrase often used to confirm fairness or veracity. Syed's repurposing of the phrase as a political device for minority voices questions what it means to be Australian in regard to Australia's current immigration policies.

Eugenia Raskopoulos asks how democracy has been an authority shared across people, nations and time. Throughout history, democracy has caused fragmentation, ruin and loss. In this new work, Raskopoulos focuses on journalists who have lost their lives in search of democracy and freedom of speech, questioning ideas of justice, freedom and power. The work will feature 54 names of journalists who died in 2018, displayed as 54 columns of text in a tabloid form.

Deborah Kelly pays homage to the 50th anniversary of Yoko Ono/John Lennon's iconic 1969 'War Is Over' artwork in a series of black and white posters, screen-printed in carbon black ink to bring attention to environmental politics. The posters call for social action, exclaiming phrases such as, "COAL IS OVER! If we want it". The posters will feature in the gallery and at local bus shelters across the Campbelltown LGA.

This year, Richard Bell will take his new work Embassy 2019: Venice. ART. IN. ACTION. to the Venice Biennale - a continuation of the Indigenous land rights (not Native Title) and anti-racism activism mobilized through the "original" Aboriginal Tent Embassy, established on the lawns of Australian Parliament in January 1972. This significant new work involves transforming a replica of the Australian Pavilion wrapped in chains to be sailed past the Biennale in Venice. Campbelltown Arts Centre will feature a series of existing and new short video works by Bell, made in collaboration with Bec Mac and Caroline Gardam from POPSART, that trace his Venice campaign. Shared on social media and in the gallery, the videos induce a call to action, interrogating the impacts of colonialism and global capital.

Melbourne-based artist Lara Thoms is producing a video portrait of Harper Neilsen, the 9-year-old that refused to stand for the national anthem at school and was called a brat, amongst other things, by politicians. The video will be complemented by a wall of children's t-shirts with derogatory terms and phrases that politicians have called child activists in recent history (including Harper). Painted with puff paint on the t-shirts, the playful aesthetic suggests a reclamation of rights, regardless of age.


Abdullah MI Syed, Eugenia Lim, Sarah Rodigari, Richard Bell, Eugenia Raskopoulos, Louisa Bufardeci, Deborah Kelly, Lara Thoms, Raquel Ormella, Kuba Dorabialski and Make or Break.

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