The personal politics, the heartbreaks, what's been going on, fighting for crown land, emotions, no longer at the beginning or the end of..., they're bleaching us
This is Clinton Nain's response to the question of what motivated this exhibition. In many ways he has produced a series of works for us to be swallowed up emotionally and spiritually, to stumble and fly through.
Clinton Nain is both the Meriam Mer (Torres Strait) and Ku Ku people of far North Queensland, and was recently described as one of Australia's most exciting emerging artists. Clinton would probably respond to that by saying that after 11 years on the scene, how long does it take to emerge!
Nain describes Whitens as ďan amalgam of emotion and figure' and is a continuation of his White King, Blak Queen series that began at the Sydney Mardi Gras in 1999 and has continued to develop via myriad themes. Throughout 2000, Nain displayed his trademark politically perceptive flair, by using bleach on fabrics, concisely expressing these themes and ideas. While his work has always been described as political - to say this alone is to deny the true complexity and stylish flamboyance of his work and persona.
By becoming the Blak Queen, (a reference to both Nain's gay pride and the mother of creation), Nain tells stories of colonization, cruelty, spiritual strength and survival as the work manifests before our eyes. I have witnessed him dance, paint, tell stories and sing all at once, a truly inspirational show. The Blak Queen is omnipotent, knows no boundaries and recognizes no colonizing fences. She has even transformed herself into a bird and flown out a window! She can turn everyday household items into weapons against colonization and the fading of memory. Her splashes of bleach become evocative images of lingering memories, prodding us to remember the truth. The Blak Queen is our Renaissance woman.
Whitens has three distinct elements: the performance, the bleached fabric, and the Mission Brown series.
The mesmerizing performance is based on our mother's account of how as a little girl in Bloomfield, North Queensland, she was forced to witness a white man on horseback shoot dead her pet dingo. A work of chilling testimony on canvas is created before the audience's eyes, as our mother's own taped voice recounts the cruel tale.
The bleached fabric element comprises a series of different fabrics 'stained' with bleach to create images that are at once romantic yet politically evocative. Nain invites us to walk on the edge of his hopes and dreams. Cotton, linen, velvet and satin are used to transport the viewer to another plane. The bleach can be interpreted in many different ways; crowns and clouds lay draped across the material, inspiring the viewer to peer into the hallucinatory world they create.
The Mission Brown series depicts the personal side of the politics, the aftermath of colonization, the remnants of a race overpowered by a dominant culture. An eerie silence hangs over the stark brown shapes and symbols as they dare the viewer to travel onward down the road they evoke.
A deep sadness is evident in the images of missions and reserves, where Aborigines were herded and where they were metaphorically bleached, bleached of their languages, bleached of their children, bleached of their pride, bleached of their very way of life. Like the uncertainty evident in the work The Potholed Road Nain asks where does this road come from and where will it take us?
Like windows looking out onto a landscape barren of happiness, the Mission Brown works show the forgotten side of Australian history and ask us to remember that what was perpetrated in this country, was an attempt to bleach us out of existence by any means necessary.
Yet - still we are here.
John Harding, Melbourne, 2001
John Harding is a freelance writer and one of Clinton Nain's older brothers.
TOP OF PAGE