unbranded presents work by Indigenous contemporary artists whose practices undermine and subvert the notion of a singular Indigenous ‘brand’ or ‘aesthetic’.
Curated by Glenn Iseger-Pilkington & Travis Hodgson
Damien Shen, Dean Cross, Gunybi Ganambarr , Illiam Nargoodah, James Tylor, John Prince Siddon , Ngarralja Tommy May, Noŋgirrŋa Marawili , Nyurpaya Kaika Burton, Patrina Munuŋgurr, Sharyn Egan, Sonia Kurarra, Wukun Wanambi.
Their work unpicks preconceptions of what Indigenous creative practice is or, should be, rejecting binary assumptions around ‘traditional/non-traditional’, or ‘urban/remote’ practices and other applied, and often arbitrary categorisations. Their work instead reflects multiplicity, complexity and sometimes-conflicting experiences of culture and identity in contemporary Australia.
The act of ‘branding’, clustering often disparate products together for marketing purposes, strips the voice of the individual artist or maker and separates creative output from the contemporary context in which it is created. In the case of Indigenous Australian Art, the commodification of cultural output as a consumable, digestible, ‘thing’, owned and understood with minimal engagement is highly problematic.
The establishment of a publicly-accepted Indigenous aesthetic has emerged from two centuries of misunderstanding, and misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in Australia. This took place in our museums, in our politics and in our broader society and resulted in mistruths about the existence of a pan-Aboriginal society, culture and Identity. It is the legacy of this lack of understanding and awareness which has resulted in an Indigenous brand, one which has outlawed cultural plurality, diversity, complexity, contradiction and contested in-between spaces. Branding denies the possibility of multi-directional dialogue between cultures and acts as a device of separation and cultural othering. It bleaches colour and nuance, white-washing diverse experiences and histories into a banal singularity.
unbranded as a curatorial enterprise questions these reductive and divisive modes of representation and interpretation, while simultaneously affirming the diversity, multiplicity and complexity of contemporary Indigenous experience, both live and inherited.
Emerging from ongoing discussions around the premise established by Glenn Iseger-Pilkington in his essay Branded: the Indigenous Aesthetic originally published by the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) in 2009, unbranded challenges the relevance of an ‘Indigenous brand’ or ‘aesthetic’, and refutes the notion that such a brand can somehow represent the experience of Indigenous artists and Indigenous people across Australia. Despite the incredible diversity of contemporary art being produced across a wide variety of mediums, forms and content and in an diverse range of community and individual contexts, these ideas persist and reflect a lack of public engagement with the realities of contemporary life and culture and the diverse experiences of Indigenous artists.
unbranded speaks to the nuance of life across Indigenous Australia. It explores the many ways that artists perceive, decipher and share their cultures, lived experiences and thoughts and feelings about the world with others, through their visionary art practices.
Image: Damien Shen, Still Life After Penn #2, 2017, printed aluminium plate, 30x30cm. Courtesy of the artist and MARS Gallery.