A splattering of machine parts, oil, flesh and blood rips apart in front of the Sydney Opera House. Christ looks on under the flags of Britain, the United States and Israel. The words Portrait of an Exploding Terrorist are printed beneath the image. This is art as protest, oils and canvas as activism. And it was painted by the nephew of the man most expect to become Australia’s 26th Prime Minister.
Van Thanh Rudd is a Melbourne artist who removes his art from the confines of the gallery and carries it into the public space. Last weekend, Rudd took another work, the 165cm x 150cm Painting of an Extremist, into the public spaces of Canberra — an appropriate venue given the election is less than a week away.
Rudd’s art is confrontational, and not to everyone’s taste. His work was evicted from the Trocadero Gallery in Footscray at the insistence of the Maribyrnong Council, and he was threatened with a charge of public nuisance by police in Brisbane. In Painting of an Extremist, BHP’s logo is centred in cross-hairs as the machinery of capitalism is torn open outside Parliament House. It’s no surprise Rudd himself has been targeted by the Herald Sun’s uber-columnist Andrew Bolt.
Explosions feature heavily in Rudd’s work. They are symbols, he says, of a juxtaposition.
“What I’m showing is the notion of economic conservatism as extreme, as opposed to what is labelled extreme by the mainstream media.”
Rudd believes conservatism, especially economic conservatism, is so rife in Australian political culture as to represent a perverse type of fundamentalism.
Economic conservatism. It’s a phrase we’ve heard a bit of over the last few weeks. Given that it’s most frequently formed by the mouth of the ALP’s leader you could be forgiven for thinking Rudd would not be overjoyed by the prospect of Uncle Kevin’s victory. You’d be mistaken.
“It (a Labor win) would show that at least change is possible, that we can flip over at least one new page”, he says.
If that sounds like change for change’s sake then it is worth noting that Arts policy is one area where the Government and Opposition appear to differ, especially as the Government are yet to deliver theirs. Peter Garrett launched the ALP’s Arts policy recently to a generally positive reception.
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“Most of the major recommendations we made have received in principle commitments from the Labor Party,” says Executive Director of the National Association of Visual Arts Tamara Winikoff.
Whilst Ms Winikoff says more detail is required in relation to funding she is pleased with the tone of the ALP policy in relation to freedom of artistic expression.
“The Labor Party seem very concerned about not exercising political influence,” she says.
Winikoff notes that while Minister for the Arts George Brandis has underlined the importance of artists being free from ideological pressures, it is necessary to support such statements with legislative reform.
The specific legislation Ms Winikoff is referring to is the Anti-Terrorism Act (No 2) 2005, or what has become known as the Sedition Laws.
According to Winikoff, “the way the legislation is written allows artistic repression, which is leading to self-censorship.” She says the Labor Party have agreed to remove sedition from the Act but the reforms need to go further. “An artist like Van Rudd should have the capacity to carry out his projects without the threat of censorship.”
A representative for Senator Brandis was contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.
Painting of an Extremist will be exhibited at the Belconnen Community Gallery until 29 November.