Gordon Bennett : Possesion Island
Gordon Bennet 1955-2014
When first viewing this piece I was drawn the faded image and how this contrasted with the bright colours in the centre of the painting. However, upon closer inspection it became apparent that this faded image or to use a better term, this whitewashed image was in relation to colonialism. This conclusion was reached due to the whitewashed image clearly depicting a group of men pitching the union Jack within a new land.
Within the whitewashed image is what appears to be black footprints, a reference to either a previous event or history created by the lands natives. However, upon closer inspection there appears to be no native in sight, only British soldiers. Upon reaching this point, a interesting turn began, I was drawn to vivid colours and shapes within the centre of the painting querying what they could mean. The way the red and yellow rectangle formed on a black background was interpreted to be some form of crucifix, with the red also being symbolic for bloodshed caused under colonialism with the cross also further concealing and disfiguring the black rectangle behind.
However while the artist may or may not of intended these rectangle shapes to represent these previous interpretations, further research has informed me that the colours black, yellow and red are indeed a direct choice by the artist to represent the colours of the aboriginal flag. The image itself being a modification of a painting made by Samuel Calvert’s (1828–1913) which depicts explorer James cook colonising Australia along with an aboriginal servant. Which in this image has been blocked out by the black, yellow and red rectangle.
This further information did two things firstly it demonstrated the extent of my own lack of knowledge when it comes to Britain’s colonial past. I was unaware of the colours of the aboriginal flag, something which is pretty abhorrent when you consider the damage colonialism caused to the natives of Australia, the lack of knowledge of even the flag colours seems to me to be further symbolic to the removal of their identity and land.
Secondly I was not even aware of James Cook while this is perhaps down to my own lack of participation in history lessons, I can honestly say I don’t remember ever being taught about James Cook, I believe Christopher Columbus was mentioned a few times but even this was in a fairly positive way. Further showing the lack of teaching and history we actually possess towards colonialism and even when presented with the colours of the aboriginal flag I still saw these as a representation of a cross, a religion spread through the actions of colonialism and imperialism.
The painting also showed how far Britain reach of colonialism went, due to me not recognising these colours I found it difficult to pinpoint which land this was depicting due to the long list of countries that were colonised by Britain, a list so long that I wasn’t even aware of how long it actually was until writing this piece.
Thus this further demonstrates the extent of whitewashing that has happened in hiding Britain’s colonial past, which I believe was the artists intention and was successfully executed, as after viewing this piece I was left feeling ashamed of my countries colonial past with a desire to remove my ignorance and become more self aware of our not so great British history.
*While writing this piece I had intended to include a list of the possible countries I thought the painting could represent, however upon my research I found the list would be too long to fit into a comprehensive paragraph. The list is as follows
British East Africa
Grenada (Windward Islands)
Papua New Guinea
St Helena, Ascension Isl. Tristan da Cunha
South West Africa
Turks and Caicos Islands