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Primavera 2018 reviewed in Art Almanac

Reappraisal of historic narratives features prominently throughout the show, as in Caroline Garcia’s pair of video works Primitive Nostalgia (2014) and Imperial Reminiscence (2018) which skewer the trope of the ‘exotic other’ in Hollywood cinema. The artist is superimposed into dance sequences in full costume, her deft performance allowing her to pass through each time and place elegantly, even as the clash of new with old footage jars the viewer. From the Tahitian women dancing for a leering Marlon Brando in ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ (1962) to the Puerto Rican women dancing in defiance of the Jets gang in ‘West Side Story’ (1961), these dances are performed for white audiences, both on-screen and off. In Imperial Reminiscence Garcia further destabilises the white patriarchal gaze by superimposing herself over white actresses costumed to play ‘exotic’ roles, highlighting the whitewashing that homogenises, alienates and erases people of colour.

A thread running through the exhibition is the demolishing of the dominant Australian identity that denies the experiences and contributions of Indigenous Australians. Works by Ryan Presley and Hayley Millar-Baker redress historical injustices, reinstating narratives erased from the Australian story. Millar-Baker’s series titled ‘A Series of Unwarranted Events’ are black and white digital photomontages that reanimate hostile encounters between Gunditjmara people and European colonists. Their painstaking detail rewards careful attention. Works from Presley’s ongoing series ‘Blood Money’ (2010-ongoing) urge a reconsideration of the symbols of Australian national identity we encounter daily. In large-scale intricate watercolour paintings based on Australian banknotes, Presley centres the lives and legacies of Aboriginal leaders such as Fanny Cochrane Smith, whose wax cylinder recordings are the only record of Tasmanian Aboriginal speech and song, or Dundalli, a Dalla man who fought European colonisation. In a similar vein of overturning white Australian dominant narratives, Jason Phu’s large scale dioramic installation The 5th Reincarnation of Sam Poo, Infamous Bushranger and The Mustard Horde: The Last Stand (2018) draws attention to the little-documented Sam Poo – ‘Australia’s only Chinese Bushranger’.

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