Victoria’s Secret photographer turns lens on Aboriginal ‘culture’: Nomad Two Worlds project takes Australia by storm

12 10 2009

Donna Karan with Richard Branson - Elder, by Russell James and Clifton Bieundurry.

The Snaparazzi were working up a lather in High Street, Armadale, yesterday at the preview of a project by American fashion photographer Russell James, best known for his work with lingerie label, Victoria’s Secret, and Walmajarri artist Clifton Bieundurry at Metro 5 Gallery. To promote his ‘Nomad Two Worlds’ project, James has recruited such international luminaries as fashion designer, Donna Karan, and the Black Eyed Peas, Hugh Jackman and Deborah Lee-Furness. Even the wonderful Fiona Stanley has signed on. Although I haven’t seen the works in the flesh yet, as far as I can gather the artworks consist of massively enlarged digital prints of James’ photographs, taken during his travels in Central Australia, which have been transferred to canvas and then overlaid with Aboriginal imagery hand-painted by Bieundurry.

It’s certainly been a media success – with previews staged at the National Gallery of Victoria and Metro 5, a ‘Mile-High’ gig by the Peas staged on a flight between Perth and Melbourne, and photos of Fergie bedecked in Karl Lagerfeld, posing in front of Nomad Two Worlds banners at the NGV preview hitting the interwebs.

I’m of two minds as to whether media saturation of this type – where stellar superstars lend their names to a project that seeks to promote social and/or cultural justice – is a good or a bad thing. Perhaps a little bit of both. On the one hand, it raises the international profile of Indigenous Australian culture, and given the appalling conditions in which many Aboriginal people live (shame, Australia, shame), this should be a good thing. But on the other hand, the names that hit the headlines and endure from this exercise, not surprisingly, are the superstars. Other than the other artist, Clifton Bieundurry, very few if any Aborigines are mentioned by name either in the media reporting or on the Nomad website. So it becomes an exercise in promoting a ‘culture’, rather than a means of empowering individuals.Image

One thing of which I am sure – when compiling a website that seeks to honour Aboriginal people, at the very least try to get the spelling and grammar right… on one page of the Nomad Two Worlds website picked at random, there is talk of ‘abariginals’, ‘aborginies’ and a ‘Dijeree Doo’. The word ‘aboriginal’ is an adjective. To speak of ‘aboriginals’ is not appropriate, and reads as downright derogatory when included in a phrase: ‘gallery owner Paul Boon along with a few abariginals (sic.) got up on stage and welcomed everyone with a live performance of the Dijeree Doo (sic.) as one of the aborginies (sic.) told a story in native tounge (sic.).’ Dijeree Doo? Didgeri-don’t.

(Images: Donna Karan at Metro 5 Gallery, by Penny Stephens via The Age online; Black Eyed Peas about to join the Mile High Club, via Nomad Two Worlds website)