29/7/12 – Piccaninny Paradise, 2009
Yesterday I was reading through the readings for my Art & Censorship Class at Melbourne University and I had discovered the works of Danie Mellor. According to the Karen Woodbury Gallery, Danie Mellor is a contemporary artist who explores a range of different art forms and styles that have been exhibited in Victoria, Canberra and New South Wales.
There is limited information about the Piccaninny Paradise, however Danie Mellor’s website explains that the artist explores the cultural and historical heritage within the indigenous culture. Picanninny Paradise there are at least four miniature figures on the top of a skull that becomes the main focus within the overall image.
One could argue that the skull is also juxtaposed with native flowers and birds within the background that may symbolise the lifestyle within the Aboriginal community. Perhaps the image provides a juxtaposition between life and death through the placement of the skull and the animated figures that also reflect the indigenous culture in Australia.
The skull and crossbones may also symbolise the European settlement in Australia who had changed the cultural and social values among the indigenous community. According to Christian Emden, Catherine Keen & David. R. Midley “The skull and crossbones was used by a few European armies in the fifteenth century to symbolise death and was later adopted by pirates” (Lang, Emden, Keen & Midley, 2006)
Mellor’s work features fine detail that is emphasised through colour, tone and composition. When I had discovered the image for the first time, I did not realise the smaller figures within the image, that may alter the viewer’s perception of the overall image. I have only seen Mellor’s work on the internet, although the artist’s website also explains that Piccaninny Paradise is made from “glitter and Swarovski Crystal” This is a very interesting choice of materials that may provide the image with a reflection or a different dimension. Perhaps the artist is combining beauty with death in order to provide a unique perspective of the human skull.
A couple of important questions were raised in class yesterday that did encourage me to consider how artists represent indigenous communities. The presentation had asked….
1. Can we speak for indigenous cultures?
2. Are all artists able to represent any culture?
From a personal perspective, it depends on the culture and the lifestyle. Representing other indigenous cultures can become quite complex and the artist must be aware of the historical and the political beliefs within a particular community. It also depends on how the culture is represented on the artist’s behalf especially within a contemporary context.
Nakikko Nakajima explains the role of censorship in contemporary art with response to the moral and social values within the community. There is a conflict between gallery spaces that want to display contemporary works of art and the cultural or the religious beliefs within the community. I do believe that contemporary artists should have the freedom to express social, cultural and historical contexts.
One could argue that the whole purpose of art is to challenge or provoke certain ideologies within the contemporary culture. If the artist did not challenge the values or the beliefs from the viewer, what would be the point? Isn’t art supposed to provide another perspective or interpretation on a particular idea?
In relation to the second question, there are contemporary artists that have explored different cultures within a different context. In Melbourne for instance, The Mexican Day of the Dead Culture has become an extremely popular representation that is evident with bars, restaurants and art galleries around the city. Can globalisation provide recognition for a particular community or culture?
Regina Marchi explains that the globalisation of the Mexican skulls in the USA has allowed other cultures to experience the Day of the Dead festival. According to Marchi “In this age of intensified globalisation and cultural – pollenization, it is not possible to maintain neat categories of ethnicity and corresponding cultural practises. Day of the Dead in the United States illustrates how diverse groups of participants are deepening the hybridity of an already hybrid subject” (Marchi,2009)
Perhaps globalisation allows artists to represent different cultures, culturally and historically. Prints, posters and other forms of merchandise allows artists to experience the culture without visiting the country. The Day of the Dead imagery in Melbourne has allowed me to understand Mexico’s cultural heritage and national identity. Has globalisation transferred cultural and spiritual values from a particular culture into a commercial product?
Karen Wood Gallery, “Danie Mellor”, Karen Wood Gallery, 2012, http://www.karenwoodburygallery.com/artist/danie-mellor/45 (Accessed 28/8/12)
Danie Mellor Official Website, “Piccaninny Paradise”, Danie Mellor, 2011, http://daniemellor.com/portfolio/?p=143 (Accessed 28/8/12)
Lang, Peter in Emden, Christian, Keen, Catherine & Midgley, David. R (eds), Imagining the City: The art of urban living (Switzerland: Academic Publishers, 2006) p.302
Nakajima, Makiko (2011) ‘Contemporary Art and Censorship: The Australian Museum Context’, The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, vol.3, issue 4, 129-146
Marchi, Regina.M. The Day of the Dead in the USA: The Migration and Transformation of a Cultural Phenomenan. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2009. p.112- 113