Curators: José Da Silva and Liz Nowell
Curatorial Research Assistant: Jax Compton
Gordon Hookey: A MURRIALITY is the first survey of renowned Waanyi artist Gordon Hookey, charting three decades of practice where artmaking and activism fuse. Drawn from public collections as well as the artist’s own studio archive, this exhibition features over fifteen key works, presented alongside a major new commission of eight protest-style banners.
Charting his practice from the early 1990s until the present day, A MURRIALITY reveals an artist reckoning with the legacies of capital and empire. With biting wit and candour, Gordon’s work addresses issues including land rights, environmental destruction, institutional violence, human rights abuses, systemic racism, police corruption and international conflict.
Across large-scale painting, sculpture, video, print making and even a children’s book, Gordon reconstructs world histories and current affairs through the lens of his lived experience. In his trademark visual language, anthropomorphic kangaroos play out fantastical allegories, claiming victory over introduced species such as cane toads, camels, and, of course, pigs.
Superimposed over these frenetic tableaus is slang, text and political jargon that the artist has deliberately misspelt, disassembled and bastardised. For Gordy, whose mother tongue was taken from him in the process of colonisation, exploiting English vernacular is an act of Indigenisation and resistance.
In addition to previous works, A MURRIALITY features a significant commission that draws inspiration from Hookey’s vast collection of political posters and continues his acclaimed series of protest banners. Made for use in the public realm at Invasion Day marches and rallies recognising Aboriginal resistance fighter Dundalli, Hookey’s banners provide timely socio-political commentary while also imagining a truly empowered Indigenous future.
Please note: This exhibition contains adult content including strong language and graphic imagery.
In a 2018 interview, Hookey described his interest in depicting humans as animals: “I was always moved by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. He looked at a farm of animals as a microcosm of humanity. I started symbolising Aboriginal people as native animals, from crocodiles to goannas, kangaroos, and wombats. But then, when I was representing introduced people, they had to be introduced species. So, I started using sheep, cane toads, pigs, camels, and other invasive animals.”
Xanthorrhoea takes over the suburban backyard, 1995
Brick shithouse, 1998
Ten point scam, 1998
Gordon Hookey responds to the denial of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty with works rebuking the systems of control and structures under which Indigenous people are governed. They include Brick shithouse and King hit ( for Queen and Country), exhibited alongside Ten point scam in the 2000 Adelaide Biennale ‘Beyond the Pale’. Hookey has said of the former painting, “Often to symbolise the way non-Aboriginal people are disconnected from the land, I use bricks in my work. Bricks are land, but it’s land that has been burnt, everything living inside it destroyed, and then that is what’s used to build.”
Aboriginality victorious, 2008
King hit (for Queen and Country), 1999
In a 2012 interview, Hookey stated: “King hit is of a time and place that is still impacting us today and will probably continue to make an impact for generations. It was made around the time that John Howard was Prime Minister of Australia, while Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party was at its peak. Hanson was saying all these racist things against Aboriginal people, against migrants and even attacking workers and single mothers. It was a verbal attack on human rights – I believe that Aboriginal rights are human rights. Howard just stood back and did not react. In retrospect, he used Hanson to gauge how far his right- wing views could be manifested.”
All the natives laughed as the cruel joke was played on poor li’l Pinky, 1997
In All the natives laughed, Hookey reverses the story of an old blackfella who goes into a pub and has his chair pulled out from under him. In a 2021 interview Hookey explained “I’m trying to show this ugly, horrible, terrible reality in maybe a beautiful or a funny way. Humour for me has been a device to seduce people into the harsh political realities of my people.”
Reiteration in perpetuity, 2010
hoogah boogah, c.2005
In hoogah boogah, Hookey speaks to the commodification of Indigenous creative expression for non-Indigenous audiences and the need to recognise the social and political realities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The phrase appears in several works, including a 2011 drawing which adds further: “THEY WANT OUR SPIRITUALITY BUT NOT OUR POLITICAL REALITY / THE PEDDLERS OF HOOGAH BHOOGAH / THE PERPETRATORS AND PERPETUATORS OF CULTURAL COLONIALISM.”
For Hookey, art can encourage communities to act on civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. While visiting for the installation of A MURRIALITY in Eora (Sydney), he remarked: “I’ve been trying to put right, in a small kind of way, the damage done across the world.” The artist here is offering us all a skeleton key for change, showing us possibilities for civic resistance, and ways to feel mobilised and ready to effect change.
Tassietigahscene/A pixel no.13, 2022
For this new body of work, Hookey revisited his forty-year-old poster archive, which he plastered to a wall in his studio. The eight banners on display take inspiration from this personal collection which cover subjects including land rights, refugee advocacy, revolutionary leaders, deaths in custody, health campaigns, and Indigenous excellence in sports, music, art, and theatre.
Conceived with a primary side/scene and a reverse that features an Aboriginal flag/heart or one of his ongoing ‘dot’ and ‘pixel’ paintings, the banners comprise “a punchline first, and then something that happens afterwards.”
Poor fella u, 2012
Sacred nation, scared nation, indoctrination, 2003
When it was exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2004, it was subject to intense criticism in the media, with then Victorian Liberal Opposition Arts Spokesman Andrew Olexander calling for its removal. In a 2009 interview, Gordon Hookey stated: “The worst type of censorship is not from the police, the government bureaucrats, the Censorship Board, the church or the community; it comes from within. We won’t censor ourselves.”
You can go now/Stop sign, 2021
Gordon Hookey was born in Cloncurry, Queensland in 1961. He currently lives and works in Brisbane. Hookey belongs to the Waanyi people and locates his art at the interface where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures converge.
He explicitly attacks the establishment and implicates our current political representatives. His style and approach is distinctive in its vibrancy and best known for its biting satire of Australia’s political landscape, its leaders and representatives. Hookey's work combines figurative characters, iconic symbols, bold comic-like text, and a spectrum of vibrant colours. Through this idiosyncratic visual language he has developed a unique and immediately recognisable style. Hookey’s perspective comes from a divergent, activist positioning – his work challenges hierarchies, skewering the status and integrity of the ‘elite’, while working to bolster the position of the marginalised and oppressed. Hookey is a core member of Brisbane-based Indigenous collective proppaNOW alongside fellow artists including Richard Bell, Vernon Ah Kee and Jennifer Herd. His work is held in major collections within Australia including the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art and University of Queensland Art Museum in Brisbane in Brisbane, Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth, National Gallery of Australia and Australian National University in Canberra, National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, University of Technology in Sydney and a number of significant private collections.
Gordon Hookey is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane.
Developed in partnership with the UNSW Galleries, Sydney, where the exhibition was presented from 30 July–2 October 2022. Presented with the support of the Australia Council for the Arts, Gordon Darling Foundation, IMA Commissioners Circle and UNSW Commissioners Circle. A national tour begins in 2023, supported by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia and by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.