Artereal Gallery is pleased to present Jason Wing’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, showcasing important new works from his ongoing Captain James Crook series alongside a recent survey of both new and existing works from his Battleground series of shields.
Described by critics as “tough, necessarily blunt, yet often witty and lyrical, Jason Wing challenges dominant accounts of Australian history”. Jason Wing is a Sydney based artist who strongly identifies with his Chinese and Aboriginal Biripi heritage. With works held in the collections of many of Australia’s major cultural institutions, his art protests the loss of the rich traditions and cultural identities of his layered dual heritage and challenges prevailing perspectives of Australian history and settlement.
These potent steel battle shields reference the Gwegal shield – a priceless Indigenous historical artefact held in the British Museum. Dotted with holes, Jason Wing’s emotionally charged shields evoke the bullet which penetrated the Gwegal shield, which is believed to mark the first act of violence committed against Indigenous Australians during Cook’s first encounter at Botany Bay. Wing’s shields offer up compelling messages of resistance prompted by the recent Black Lives Matters protests. These shields were created by the artist in the days directly following the protests, as a response to the eruption of emotions that have surged through the Australian public, from frustration and despair to a sense of renewed hope and empowerment. With their references to historical injustice and systemic racism they act as a powerful call to arms.
BLACK LIVES MATTER! The plea and call to action is resonating worldwide.
It is at the heart of Jason Wing’s art. He challenges, protests and mourns Australia’s fraught colonising and indigenous histories and the continuing contemporary impact of contested Country and the loss of the rich indigenous traditions and cultural identities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Jason Wing’s mother is an Aboriginal woman of the Biripi people in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales. His father is Chinese (Cantonese). The artist’s many layered Australian heritage and DNA powers and drives his potent installations and objects:
“The common thread throughout my practice is the everyday battle which Aboriginal people fight living in this colonial institutional framework. We fight for re-writing Aboriginal history that has been erased, destroyed, hidden and lost. We fight for equal human rights. We fight for our culture to be respected, valued and celebrated in a genuine way. We fight for equal rights socially, culturally, politically and economically”.
Battleground assembles a serried armory of symbolic battle-shields-for-our-time. Ground-in glyphs of surveyors’ marks alongside other universal cultural symbols of Country and ownership applied in ochre pigments of white and red, scar, leach and bleed into harsh rusted Corten steel surfaces. Such marks universally bode a change of occupier and of purpose, whether to the natural environment, to inhabitants, and inevitably their histories…
The artist’s ritualistic shields are at once a call to arms signaling both defense and attack. And a memorial. United in protesting the corrosive impact of invasive settlement, of law-making practices, of mining with its desecration of sacred grounds and destruction of natural habitats, and against the ingrained and systemic discriminatory attitudes that alienate peoples, endanger culture and threaten Country.
Rio Tinto detonating explosives in the Juukan Gorge of Western Australia on 15 May 2020 destroying a significant site dating back 46,000 years for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people bears witness to the distressing disregard and ongoing massacre by corporate giants of Aboriginal heritage.
Stenciled texts and portentous cut-out holes in selected of Wing’s shields ominously admonish and attest “… that once culture is cut out – it is so, so hard to put back.”
At school in Sydney, Jason Wing, like so many generations of students, was taught that Australia was discovered by Captain James Cook when he sailed into Kamay (but named by Cook in his charts as Botany Bay), the home of the Eora and Gweagal people.
It is a flawed colonial victor perspective perpetuated by law-makers, many historians and school and university curricula that denies the sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Wing’s response is a succession of works created since 2012 around versions of busts of Captain James Cook to challenge audiences to rethink dual and alternate histories to those that are embedded in the Australian psyche of Australia as terra nullius (meaning a land belonging to no one) and having been peacefully settled by European colonizers:
The artist emphatically asserts: “There are many politically correct terms such as “colonised, peacefully settled, occupied, discovered etc. The truth is that Australia was stolen by armed robbery. History is often written and erased by the victors, so I decided to challenge colonial history of Australia from an Aboriginal perspective.”
Australia was stolen by armed robbery is a found fiberglass bust of Cook on which the artist placed a black balaclava. It won the 2012 Parliament of New South Wales Aboriginal Art Prize and is held in the permanent collection of the New South Wales Parliament House. It attracted a furor of controversy. Subsequent cast bronze versions by Wing of Cook, both masked and unmasked have followed.
Captain James Crook (black light), a screen-print edition created in 2019-2020 and coincides with the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of Cook’s arrival in Australia. It depicts a barefaced bust of Cook. Supplied with the work is a Black Light Torch, a device used by forensic scientists to analyse crime scenes. When shone on the work it reveals Cook/Crook wearing a black balaclava – significantly the disguise of choice for bandits. The clever visual pun serves to ‘shine a light’, to ‘enlighten’ and importantly to confront and reconcile the divided issues surrounding our colonial past.
Artist and activist, Jason Wing is exhibited widely nationally and internationally. He has delivered a range of significant public art commissions and is represented in major Australian collections including the National Gallery of Australia and prestigious Australian and International public, corporate and private collections.
Curator, Artereal Gallery
10th June 2020
“In 2019-20 I created my most recent work Captain James Crook (black light). This screenprint depicts an unmasked bronze bust of Captain James Cook. Audiences are invited to consider the dual and alternate history’s which exist in our country by taking an active and performative role in how they engage with this artwork. By activating the UV light (or black light), they can choose to reveal a depiction of Cook in which he is seen wearing a balaclava.
In showcasing these two opposing depictions of Cook, audiences are faced with two alternative views of Australian history and asked to confront the internal fissure which exists within the Australian psyche. Australian’s today are still divided on issues surrounding our colonial past. Through these two artworks I hope that audiences will begin to rethink the various narratives that exist within Australian history.” – Jason Wing