You Can Go Now Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Larissa Behrendt.
Trailblazing indigenous artist and outspoken provocateur Richard Bell is arguably one of our most important artists whose work has been exhibited internationally. But he is also confrontational and unapologetic in his opinions about Australia’s treatment of its First Nations people, and he also bemoans the fact that traditional aboriginal art work and paintings have now become a “commodity” amongst art collectors.
Timed for a cinema release over the Australia Day long weekend, this documentary from writer/director Larissa Behrendt (After The Apology, etc) paints a detailed and complex portrait of Bell, whose artwork and outspoken views have challenged our understanding of aboriginal history and culture. His work has taken him overseas for exhibitions and have enhanced his reputation as one of Australia’s top aboriginal artists.
Behrendt is a Eualayai/Gamilloroi woman with a long history of making provocative and eye-opening documentaries that explore indigenous issues. This film has been some fifteen years in the making since Bell was first approached about appearing on screen to tell his story. Drawing upon a wealth of archival footage and interviews with Bell and many of his contemporaries, including activist Gary Foley and Brisbane gallery owner Josh Milani, who exhibits much of Bell’s work, director Behrendt paints a complex portrait of the man as both an artist and a firebrand activist involved in advocating for positive change for his people. The material has been shaped into a cohesive structure by editor Jane Usher (That Sugar Film, etc).
The film explores fifty years of aboriginal activism, and the history of indigenous Australia through the prism of Bell himself. Bell grew up in a small tin house in rural Queensland but learned his radical activism and political awareness on the streets of Redfern, an inner-city Sydney suburb, in the 70s, when his political views were largely shaped by the civil rights movement that was happening in the US. He has been actively involved in advocating for aboriginal issues for many years. With the approaching referendum regarding the “Voice to Parliament”, this film takes on an urgency itself in exploring the complex issue.
The 1967 referendum recognised citizenship for aboriginal people, but according to Bell there was little positive change in the circumstances for the people themselves. There was also the establishment of the controversial tent city in Canberra in 1972, in which Bell played a key role. He has also been involved in numerous protests calling for equality and the end to systemic police abuse. Bell however doesn’t pull his punches when he talks about the troubled history of aboriginals since the arrival of the British in 1778, nor when he talks about how aboriginal paintings have now become a “commodity” in the international art world and challenges their whiteness. He has been a passionate critique of what he regards as the “aboriginal art industry” and how it has become a “commodity” for white collectors. Many of his art works tackle this theme head on.
From this documentary it is clear that Bell is not going away anytime soon, and will be a passionate and outspoken advocate for his people, their traditional culture, and for progress.