Sydney Morning Herald
A vivid trip back to where it all began
January 12, 2008

Quoted from article:

CULTURE WARRIORS is a curious name for the inaugural National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia. Gallery director Ron Radford admits that a quick search on the internet links the term to a group of political pundits in the United States who are “conservative, right-leaning, anti-affirmative action and pro-war”. Some might have felt that to persevere with the title under these circumstances would be to send out misleading signals but not curator Brenda Croft, who saw an opportunity to appropriate the term for “subversive” reasons.

I tried the experiment of a quick internet search and found the first eight entries referred to a “best-selling” (gasp!) book called Culture Warrior by Bill O’Reilly – not the famous leg-spinner but a loud-mouthed commentator from Fox News. This particular culture warrior divides the world into traditionalists and “secular progressives” – the latter category including anyone with a few liberal opinions.

O’Reilly suggests there is something very glamorous in being a culture warrior, taking a militant stand against the evils of pacifism, social equality and human rights. In Croft’s version the culture warriors are Aboriginal artists who take pride in their work and in their status as the original owners of this land. There may be an unbridgeable chasm between the two positions but warriors of any persuasion still need an adversary and this is where the term seems misapplied. It’s easy for O’Reilly to define his opponents but who exactly is the enemy of the indigenous artist? The previous government that refused to say “Sorry”? Mining companies such as BHP Billiton (the sponsors of this exhibition)? Pauline Hanson? Keith Windschuttle?

Blame it on the title or the reviewer but I went into this show with the idea that it would be full of works making the most banal and obvious political points. The reality is different. Although there are such pieces in the exhibition, they play a minor role, being overshadowed by a collection that is consistently interesting and at times quite dazzling.

The 30 artists in Culture Warriors correspond to a fairly even spread of age groups, localities and traditional and new media. One could argue forever about inclusions and exclusions but Croft has assembled a representative group that allows audiences to sample the broad variety of art that may be classed as “indigenous”.

At the heart of the show is the work of five senior figures: Tiwi painter Jean Baptiste Apuatimi, Aurukun artist Arthur Koo’ekka Pambegan jnr and the bark painters Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek, Philip Gudthaykudthay and John Mawurndjul. These artists have established their reputations over many years and have nothing left to prove. Each has developed a highly individual touch while working within the boundaries of traditional media and subject matter.