The Caste Collection
The Caste Collection is a series of works inspired by the vitriolic treatment of Aboriginal people of mixed heritage to diminish their persuasiveness in debate about racial issues in Australia. Each canvas is brutally divided into fractions or portions of white(ness) and black(ness). ½, 1/3, ¼, 1/6, 1/8 and so on.
This is my personal response as an Aboriginal woman, a Koori, a proud Gadigal mother and advocate for constitutional change. It is meant to reflect the stupidity, bigotry and racism that tries to diminish Aboriginal culture in Australia by this notion of diluting the amount of black or 'Blackness' in we humans. The collection is hugely inspired by Andrew Bolt and his insatiable need to try and call out Bruce Pascoe (amongst many others), a widely successful Blak Australian of scholarly merit and award, as less than Aboriginal because of his “diluted” heritage. Unfortunately for Bolt and people of his ilk, the attention brought about by the discussion only further reinforces the resolve of those in question and their Aboriginal Brothers and Sisters. No dilution of Blak is possible.
This Collection is made up of three distinct groups of work.
The first are distinctly Black and White to represent the black and white ancestory of an individual. The coloured dots are made of ‘skin tonal colours’ identified by the paint company Matisse. These different skin colours represent the supposed ‘dilution’ or perceived imperfection in both the black person and the white. As “they” (whoever they are) say, nothing is ever simply just Black and White.
The second have been painted in panels of black and natural ochre and pigments. The works produced in this group represent the natural world and indeed how obtuse it is to nominate an amount of Black in that natural world. It cannot be a “part” thereof, it just doesn’t work, yet at some level it does work to include Black. In this group I hope to provide pause and reflection on whether or not black is or is not obtuse to the canvas and its natural inhabitants painted atop or if indeed I should have include slices of white?
The third are deliciously simple. Each canvas is wholly drenched in local ochres and pigments to illustrate how harmonious nature is when it is at one with its creator, mother, Earth.
The EORA nation bound by three mighty rivers; the Hawkesbury to the North, the Nepean to the West and the George’s River to the South. The nation is made up of 29 clan groups, the Gadigal, my mob, being the one that occupies this very place - Sydney City. Of these 29 clans it is believed that 11 languages were spoken and understanding from mob to mob bridged by family and kinship ties and largely by marriage.
This work depicts the 11 language groups as a tight ringed and complete circle at the centre; a further 18 rings are worked around the language hub, or core and in total the 29 rings represent the nations of Eora, Sydney.
The work is split almost in half, but not quite....see at the time of the First Fleet Landing it is estimated that 1,500 Aboriginal people lived in Eora, and we know from well documented archive that only 1,400 made the journey from England. It was the last time in history where we, the Traditional Owners of this nation, were in greater numbers than our Coloniser.
Recently researching for a book l'm writing, I came across what I was sold as "an outback classic"; We of the Never Never by Mrs Jeannie Gunn. The story of a white man and woman who tame the outback and it's inhabitants. It's a tough read as an Aboriginal Woman. The racism and colloquial killing of Indigenous brothers and sisters, the servitude and the inequality invariably cause my heart to arrest.
The Elsey where this book is set is now property which is owned by the Mangarrayi Aboriginal Land Trust.
This painting is a celebration of a the moments in time where the Caste system was truly in a "balance of favour", where we, the traditional owners of these lands had yet to be Colonised, or indeed in 2023 are reclaiming our Country and kin.