My friend, the Palestinian artist, Emily Jacir has a solo show at her Turin gallery, Galleria Peola Simondi, Italy (until 14 October, 2021). The photo based works, film and texts are her response to the ongoing conflict between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people in and around her ancestral home and artist’s studio in Bethlehem. Jacir’s house is 200 metres from the “Apartheid Wall”, the imposing security barrier which was supposedly designed to protect the Jewish Israeli population but instead serves to isolate and and antagonise Palestinian communities. As Jacir states in the text by Francesca Comisso, “the wall does not separate us from Israel, it separates us from ourselves”.
I have photographed Emily several times over the years and one of these images was used by La Repubblica newspaper in the review of her current show at Galleria Peola Simondi.
“This work comes from walking through the fire ground after the 2019-20 fires in the Blue Mountains….the textures, the still glowing logs, the xanthorrhoea stumps, the profound and shocking stillness,” says artist Margarita Sampson.
It is great to photograph Margarita’s work and spend a couple of hours with her magnificent and unusual creations. I wonder what’s next….?
Pigment inkjet on cotton rag, 112cm x 78cm, Edition of 9, (2AP)
Since 2008, every year I have taken an “official” annual portrait photograph of Matthew Mitcham, Australia’s gold-medal Olympic diver, award-winning cabaret performer and television entertainer, in my studio in Sydney.
Facing the camera with a direct, unflinching manner, each consecutive portrait is added to the growing series of similar portraits, which commenced when Matthew was only 20 years old, before his rise to Olympic fame.
Each portrait is taken under similar conditions, plotting the changes in his physical appearance and growing self-assurance. This particular 2020 portrait marks a bumpy year for all of us, facing the pandemic. It is only fitting Matthew is masked and “Covid-safe” for this one. MMXX marks the 13th portrait and the 13th year in this ongoing series.
I thank Matt for his support in continuing this series, in allowing a very public view of his “personal time-line”. Matt married Luke just over a year ago in Belgium I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to photograph their wedding (see blog post: Matthew Mitcham Marries). They spent a good part of 2020 here in Australia but only a few days ago Matt and Luke have left our shores for the UK.
John McRae’s work is featured as part of “The figure of the mother in art: an embematic representation of love” by Pepe Alvarez and Fernando Galan, published in art.es in December 2018 (pages 59-64). It is part of the special issue of the Spanish art magazine dedicated to the theme of the mother. The article discusses the broader concept of maternity in Michelangelo’s “Pietà”, the female viewpoint as presented by the contemporary artists Nathalie Djurberg, Leiko Ikemura, Francesca Marti’, Isabel Munoz, Yoko Ono and Cindy Sherman, and the work of James McNeill Whistler, John McRae, Roman Ondak and Tatsumi Orimoto. John McRae is represented by Lois (2006), a portrait of his dead mother. This work was chosen as a finalist in the 2006 Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture at the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah, Australia.
As the art.esarticle states, “The figure of the mother, and maternity as a concept, have played an important role in the historical development of mankind as reflected in its cultural manifestations. The cult of the mother is as old as humanity … a link to the earth, making the mother the only real and tangible point of reference.”
The Museum of Love & Protest was an inter-active exhibition at the National Art School (NAS) in Sydney in February/March, looking back across four decades of the history of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. It featured original costumes, photographs, iconic posters, rarely-seen video footage, story-telling, music and artefacts. This large scale group show celebrated love, protest, diversity, humour, pride and creativity.
The exhibition included my photographs commissioned by Mardi Gras for the 2012 and 2013 official Mardi Gras posters (MARDIGRASLAND and GENERATIONS OF LOVE), and also my grinning portrait of cheesey performer Bob Downe, attached to one of his infamous cabaret safari-suit costumes.
Spot the Arab opened at Backspace Gallery, Ballarat on March 1, 2018 (see images below) through March 18.
Local artists, photographers, arts administrators, friends and family of the artist, journalists, and the general public from Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Melbourne and beyond were in attendance for the opening of “Spot the Arab” on the walls of this art space (housed in a heritage-protected, former police station), funded and supported by the City of Ballarat.
Deborah Klein (Arts and Culture Co-ordinator), Cash Brown (Curator and Conservator at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka) and Jonathan Turner (exhibition co-curator, Rome), opened the exhibition.
In particular, the “Selfie Stand” was a huge success. This is a portable photo-booth which has been set up, where visitors to my exhibition can use their mobile phones to take a self-portrait wearing Arab head dress or costume provided, standing in front of desert landscape backdrops I photographed in Israel and Palestine.
Visitor summary – Spot the Arab, Ballarat
An estimated 3,000 people visited the exhibition inside the Backspace Gallery. Many more people saw the exterior images pasted on the Backspace building and in the square (20,000 people passed by the gallery building on the Saturday of the White Night Festival)
SOCIAL MEDIA SUMMARY
A total of 20,000 people were reached through Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
3,507 people visited the separate Spot the Arab page on Facebook
John McRae’s personal photography page was visited by a further 3,393 people
6,585 people saw Spot the Arab posts via twitter
5,750 people saw Spot the Arab posts via Instagram (with 965 likes)
There were a further 1,000 likes via other media, and 125 direct comments
The Selfie Stand
From at least 400 people who dressed in the Arab costumes provided and took selfies at the exhibition, 33 people posted their portraits on social media.
Link to pod-cast with John McRae about his Spot the Arab portrait project and exhibition in Ballarat. Interview by artist and communications officer Rebecca Wilson, as part of her Western Connections programme.
Interview conducted in Sydney: February 12, 2018. 25 minutes.
John McRae will exhibit his latest body of work Spot the Arab for the first time in Australia. Images from McRae’s Spot the Arab series were shown in June 2017 in Rome, at the cutting-edge Italian gallery Il Ponte Contemporanea.This exhibition took place in the centre of the “Eternal City”, close to the Vatican, in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto.
Name: Spot the Arab – John McRae
Venue:Backspace Gallery, Ballarat, Australia
Dates:Exhibition runs from March 1-18 , 2018
Opening Thursday March 1, from 6pm – 8pm
Backspace Gallery hours: Thursday – Sunday, 12 – 4pm, The artist will be present for the duration of the exhibition.
The closing weekend of the exhibition will coincide with Harmony Fest (March 17-26), White Night Ballarat (Saturday March 17,from 4pm to 2 am) and Ballarat Cultural Diversity Week (March 14 – 25).
Note: the Backspace Gallery will remain open from 4pm to 2am on March 17, as part of White Night Ballarat.
Address: Huyghue House,
Alfred Deakin Place (Camp Street) Ballarat
Owned and operated by the City of Ballarat Arts and Cultural Development team
The City of Ballarat respectfully acknowledges the Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung people– traditional custodians of the land.
Spot the Arab challenges the viewer to identify who among the line-up identifies as Arab.I query if this is such a relevant question in the first place.How complicated life becomes when such things are treated as important.…maybe it’s more interesting to just experience the actual person in front of you, no matter how they are “dressed”, and to leave it at that.
Spot the Arab is a project based on portraiture, as a summary of various themes, ideas and concepts aligned to how I reflect upon contemporary issues of religion, race, gender, orientation, nationality and freedom. I present this work in a game-like yet very serious manner. It is a topical celebration of diversity, with a powerful message about tolerance.
Following 9/11 we have seen a growth in the stigma surrounding the idea of Arab/Muslim/Middle-Eastern, driven by incessant, hounding imagery of the “terrorist”. I resent this repeated, visual conditioning, which occurs every time you turn on the television or open a newspaper. It is easy to make fake computations and lose your ability to comprehend the subtleties and differences…so that you may no longer see the actual person standing in front of you.How often does this occurs in all areas of our society?How often do we close down communication as a result?I decided to take this particular stereotype and use it to draw attention to the insanity of discrimination.
This show has been built around a photo installation, a retrospective of my portraits since 2002 on the theme of the illusions and stereotypes of what is an Arab today.It looks at a selection of people I have photographed over the past decade in numerous countries and from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.In most cases I have imposed Middle-Eastern clothing onto my subjects (who may otherwise wear jeans and a t-shirt) and have asked them to enact the role of what they consider an Arab might be. The sitters include men, women and transgender people in the “guise” of Arabs and dressed accordingly.Spot the Arab focuses on social fictions of femininity/masculinity, recurring themes in my work.
At the end of the portrait session I asked each subject to exactly describe how they identify, since in this way, we can over-ride the preconceptions of imposed racism and prejudice….and whether they identify as “Arab” in any way. This gives additional weight to the complexity of each portrait.
For example, Ali, a Lebanese-Australian national raised in Paris but who is currently based in London, has frequently posed for me over the past decades. He provides a sharp description of how he defines his own identity.
“My ethnicity is Arab, I see myself as Semitic too. I also have Persian lineage,” Ali explains. “Gender is very fluid in the male body that I adore, so I project the idea of Macho Male. My religion: Agnostic, Neo-pagan, Baphomet Worshipper, Hermetic Qabalist, Neo-Platonic, Sacred Whore (I go as ‘London Arab Master’ these days). I love Shia-Islam too.”
I tend to create works in series, often spanning different continents and time-lines. This introduces a multi-faceted and shifting perspective, never a single cultural viewpoint.My specific fascination is to use my camera to break down stereotypes and visual codes, more important today than ever.In my portraits, I try to capture sly or hidden messages, and then juxtapose these with more blatant aspects of drama, styling and emotion, whether it is authentic or staged.It is always about intimacy versus theatricality.
John McRae, 2017
Spot the Arab with be running with a number of community based events which are taking place in Ballarat concurrently:
– White Night Ballarat (Saturday March 17,from 4pm to 2 am)
– Harmony Fest (March 17-26)
– Cultural Diversity Week (March 14 – 25).
Spot the Arab will challenge the viewer to identify who of the various models, dressed in Middle Eastern costume, actually identify as Arab. Viewers will also be invited to participate in the SELFIE STAND, an area in the gallery reserved for those who wish to take a selfie dressed in the Middle Eastern clothing (provided) in front of an Arabian backdrop. The viewer is then encouraged to post this image on social media with the hashtag #spotthearab. Once posted, the artist will print the resulting images and then adhere them to a wall of the Backspace Gallery, so that the visitors can become part of the exhibition.
For further information about the exhibition go to: