Language is a systematic means of communicating by use of conventionalised sounds, signs, gestures and marks that have an understood meaning. The significance of language in Indigenous culture identifies a person to a language group, and a dialect to a specific region. Culturally, language’s intent is not only a means to communicate with people but also to connect with one’s country. Foreign interference exploited and displaced Darren Blackman’s Elders, forbidding cultural practices, including language. He in turn claims the King’s English, subverting language, creating fonts and text responding to this Western construct.
The intent of political language is to influence through messaging and media. For over 250 years, the imperial institution controlled the narrative concerning First Nations peoples, leading to this very moment in time – the Voice Referendum. The nation of Australia is now asked to decide on this highly contentious, but morally just, issue. Blackman’s position is to document the campaign, the process, and the absurdity of ‘legally’ seeking permission from the oppressors to speak at their table on unceded land.
Blackman creates language through broken and erratic text. He utilises traditional methods of Gureng Gureng petroglyphs (rock engraving) by scribing into wet paint, then layering stencilled text over the top in the style of the Gangulu peoples’ rock face motifs. The bold text jumps off the surface, capturing the urgency of the land rights marches during the 1970s and ’80s.
Works on linen, paper and textile products, screened or digitally printed, are mediums that take Blackman’s works off the canvas and onto the streets. Via Language of Intent, Blackman presents the Voice as a brand, a consumable item. The Referendum is not as simple as casting a Yes or No vote. Historical trust issues with government policy and fear campaigns leave Indigenous and non-Indigenous people uncertain of the possible outcome. His work is both timely and reflective as we all try to navigate pathways to the referendum and then beyond.
Image: Darren Blackman, Fight The Power (detail), 2023. Photo & Stylist: Ketakii Jewson-Brown. Model: Jarwin Blackman, Gureng Gurung, Wakka Wakka First Nations. Courtesy of the artist and Onespace.
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