Abdul Abdullah's artwork, which was pulled down from Artspace Mackay.
Abdul Abdullah's artwork, which was pulled down from Artspace Mackay.

Mayor doesn’t want controversial artwork displayed

TOOWOOMBA Mayor Paul Antonio said he doesn't want a controversial artwork displayed at the city's art gallery.

Two pieces by acclaimed Perth artist Abdul Abdullah were pulled down from the travelling Violent Salt exhibition in Mackay on Friday, following complaints from the local RSL that they were "insulting" to war veterans and servicemen.

The artworks, titled All let us rejoice and For we are young and free, depict close-ups of two soldiers with large smiley faces painted over them.

The exhibition is coming to the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery in February.

Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson told The Daily Mercury that Cr Antonio agreed with him about not displaying the works, something the Toowoomba Mayor backed up when questioned by The Chronicle.

Cr Antonio also pointed out he had not seen the artworks yet.

"He (Cr Williamson) is very offended. I would not be keen to see that in our town," he said.

"I know and trust Greg and he's very concerned about it for its denigration of the Australian war effort.

"I think that what servicemen and women have done for this country (should be respected).

"From what he's said to me, I agree, but I haven't seen it."

According to the artist statement in the Violent Salt program, the two pieces explored the connection between Australia's military efforts and the nation's identity.

"The works are not about the specific identity of any one soldier, but about what that soldier represents, and how those collective actions relate to the national identity," Mr Abdullah wrote.

"What does our liberty mean, when our surrogates are explicitly involved in illiberal, destructive actions in other places?

"For many in Australia our military is a symbol of authority and security, but they are being militarily engaged in invasive wars overseas; anyone who comes across our soldiers in action would only see them as an existential threat."

Mr Abdullah said in a statement that he respected defence force personnel, but urged the artworks to be shown.

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"I fully understand that people have strong views about people representing our nation and I have nothing but the greatest respect for Australian Service men and women," he said.

"It saddens me that the works have been interpreted to suggest otherwise.

"I have always been here to talk through my creative intent and remain so.

"Let's not censor art that provokes important discussions about what matters to all of us who care about what makes us who we are as a nation."

In a letter to its council, the RSL Mackay Sub Branch said it believed the pieces would be potentially detrimental to Australian service personnel.

"We believe there is a significant conflict of interest in Government supporting the exhibiting of the artworks given that those Australian service personnel are the agents of the Government who instruct them to participate in any foreign conflict," the letter read.

Sandy Pottinger.
Sandy Pottinger.

Respected Toowoomba artist and academic Sandy Pottinger said she was opposed to any kind of censorship in art.

"Art has historically been a political sounding board for issues requiring debate, generating concern, and confronting areas of bigotry, corruption, cruelty, and the infringement of human liberties," she said.

"To censor these works is a cultural embarrassment and is literally muzzling open discussion, education, and political awareness of issues confronting our multicultural population."

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