Gordon Bennett was an Australian artist of Indigenous and Scottish ancestry who challenged fixed constructions of race and identity in his work.
Bennett’s Notes to Basquiat (in the future art will not be boring) 1999 is from a series of works that began in 1998 as a posthumous dialogue with American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Bennett had admired Basquiat since art school and identified parallels in their life and careers as ‘black’ artists whose ethnicity often overshadowed their practices.
To the left is an abstract composition based on a drawing by Malevich, and trapped within it is a figure adapted from Margaret Preston’s cartoonish depictions of Aboriginal people. Preston, a celebrated modernist, advocated for the domestic usage of Indigenous art and design during the 1920s and 30s, in what can now be seen as a culturally insensitive practice.
Bennett’s appropriation and juxtaposition is a metaphor for a little known or understood form of subjugation of Indigenous culture within the history of modernism, drawing attention to a local instance in Australian art.