During National Reconciliation Week we recognise and celebrate the extraordinarily rich and outstanding artworks in the ANU Art Collection by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, including Robert Campbell Jnr., whose painting ‘Let’s be friends (learning from each other’s culture)’ we introduce here. We acknowledge and celebrate the First Australians on whose traditional lands we meet, and pay respects to the elders past, present and emerging.
Robert Campbell Jr., a Ngaku artist, was born in Kempsey in 1944 and grew up on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. His work addresses the history of his people, as well as commenting on current political issues. These range from the ill-treatment and massacres that occurred when 19th century European settlers pressed into the interior of the continent, to his encounters with racism and segregation in rural Australian towns, and that enduring symbol of protest on the very door-step of the country’s white ruling establishment – the Aboriginal tent embassy on the manicured lawns of the (old) Federal Parliament building. His imagery juxtaposes the spacious, unfettered traditional lifestyle of his people and the social alienation and economic marginalisation of their present condition. The most characteristic feature of his work, as Howard Morphy has noted, is ‘the contrast between the bright optimism conveyed by the aesthetics of the paintings and the darkness of the themes they explore’.*
*Indigenous Art at the Australian National University, Macmillan art Publishing, Victoria, 2009, p.194.
Robert Campbell Jnr
Ngaku and Dhungatti peoples | Born 1944, Kempsey, NSW. Died 1993.
Let’s be friends (learning from each other’s culture), 1988
acrylic on canvas, 122 x 227 cm.
ANU Art Collection, Acquired 2001.