What’s on the Fridge?

aboriginal-dance.jpeg

“Danseurs aborigenes, a l’inauguration des Jeux du Commonwealth.”
(Aboriginal Dancers, at the start of the Commonwealth Games)
Eckhard Supp
Brisbane, Australie 1982

I’ve had this postcard (sent to my family by a relative) for a few years now, posted in our kitchen. It appeals to me on a number of levels.

There is the interest of a culture not my own: this is obviously photographed in Australia while I reside in the U.S. There is the perfection of the asymmetrically-balanced composition: the tight group of dancers contrast in many ways with the uniformed man; they are separated from each other even though they are all in a very small enclosed space. It seems to be at night, so even though there are what seem to be windows, there is no sense of an outside, large space. The camera lens may have distorted it but the children and man tilt away from each other, no one’s eyes meet. The man’s eyes are closed and he appears to be suffering in silence, facing a window but can’t get out, while the children ignore him.

Overall there is the contrast of ancient and modern cultures. I know very little about the clash of Aboriginal and European cultures in Australia, except that it hasn’t been much better than the similar history in the U.S. I’d like to know how Aussies view this image, if they find it amusing or sad. Superficially, at first glance it looks funny, but the more I analyze it the sadder it gets.

I could not find any information in English about the photographer. Google turns him up as associated with a book with the German title, Australiens Aborigines. Ende der Traumzeit? (Babel Fish translates it as “End the dream time?”) The postcard title is in French probably because it was purchased and sent from Canada.

Little bits of art can be fascinating and thought-provoking. What’s posted on your fridge?

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11 Responses to “What’s on the Fridge?”


  1. 1 Tess June 12, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    I don’t know if this blog is still active. I came across it by accident doing study research. I’m Australian and very supportive of the Reconciliation beginning. I have direct experience and relationships with Indigenous people including relatives..through inlaws. I don’t find this image at all “creepy”..people seem to be imposing their own preconceptions and judgements on the image. Those children would make their people proud..to be keeping alive culture and showing the world..they look to be from a traditonal community in the Outback and thankfully many have kept a lot of their traditional culture and knowledge despite the atrocities that have occured including the Stolen Generation. Aboriginal cultures are alive in Australia, there is a movement to keep languages alive and more and more “white fellas” respectful and supportive of change and recognition of the impact of colonisation of the Indigenous people of Australia.
    “Creepy” is an odd word to use. The children are painted for traditional meanings as part of their dreamtime stories..which connect many realities..now, the past, the ancestors, the making of everything in nature, ethics, morals, behaviour code.
    I think it’s a beautiful photo..they are nervous but I bet proud..a bit overcome with being away from their land.

    • 2 eileen June 13, 2010 at 5:36 am

      Tess, this blog is still active. I think you are misreading the use “creepy” – it refers to the way the man is turning away from the children, the painful divide between them, not the children themselves.

  2. 3 Sally March 11, 2008 at 10:47 am

    This photo makes me not only sad but appalled.
    It reminds me of the intense racism in Australia and the pseudo benevolence towards ‘those sweet aboriginal kids’.
    Lip service was given to their culture.
    Still the life expectancy of an aboriginal child is appallingly low.
    This looks like one of those lip service events.

  3. 4 eileen February 7, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you all for sharing your views of your photograph and what it represents to you. Olga, thanks so much for the wikipedia page on the photographer. I had googled him previously and it turned up a bunch of pages related to (i think) wine. Silly me, I assumed it could not be the same person.

  4. 5 Jane Davila February 7, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    The picture with the guard cropped out would have told a completely different story. It’s very interesting and intriguing as it is, and Alison’s insights have made it more so.

    My fridge has an assortment of funky, colorful glass magnets holding up the typical flotsam and jetsam of necessary slips of papers and phone numbers and reminder cards, a quote on a magnet that I came across in an art supply store that starts with “Live with Intention” (which has become my personal mantra), another magnet from RISD that a friend gave me that says “intelligent… and more”, plus a nifty bumper sticker my sister found that reads “I think, therefore I’m dangerous”. I guess my fridge is more verbal than visual…

  5. 6 Kristin F February 6, 2008 at 7:44 am

    The idea of knowing what is “best” for another group of people has roots that go far back in the history of civilization. The US policy of taking “aboriginal” native children and placing them in boarding schools and yes often punishing them from uttering sounds of their native tongue or following a traditional ceremonial practice was a commonplace experience well into the 20th century. Then there was the policy of relocation that took place in the 1950’s….young couples in particular were without their agreement moved from reservation land to a large urban area for training. Some were able to adjust to this change and do well, many simply felt so deeply the loss of their community that they succeeded in nothing..

    These children on the postcard look to me as children often do as they prepare to perform…some antsy, some nervous, most just simply kids making faces when they have to stand still…and these children are in close quarters and wearing traditional face painting and body embellishments yet do not seem to be pushing or punching each other -commendable in my view. The guard seems to me to be simply standing by and “letting be”, not engaging with these children who are foreign to him, perhaps by his chosing. Yes, June, it is a Creepy picture for me as well.

  6. 7 june February 5, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Alison,

    I think your comments decidedly illuminate why I find the image creepy — it’s the studied indifference of the guard to the incredible energy and focus of the dancers that I find creepy — and that probably comes out of a cultural studied indifference (or hostility) to the Aborigines.

    The phrase the “Aboriginal Problem” (the phrase that you’ve wisely put into quotes and understand as fully as I do) always gets my goat — it’s like talking about the “Woman Problem.” The problem isn’t with women, it’s with those who have exploited and misused and trampled on them. Likewise with the Aborigines. The problem is the government and its racism…… It’s the way language mis-understands the situation and makes for continued injustice — and that’s something of what I was seeing as “creepy.”

  7. 8 alison February 5, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Creepy? It didn’t seem that way to me: I see a combination of expressions ranging from resentment to calm acceptance among these dancers waiting to perform…. perhaps a rehearsal for the umpteenth time? (the bored-looking ?security guard? standing to one side of the dancers, was unfortunately caught mid-blink, thereby capable of being interpreted as symbol of the indifference of many Australians to the indigenous people of our country. It’s ann interesting statement by the photographer, expecially since the profile of the security person appears to me to be of middle eastern origin. Our country has citizens whose birth countries number around 170 nations – the ‘national face’ has changed a lot in my lifetime, with lots of wonderful results but we are still plagued by our inability to strike a healthy balance in the area of ‘The Aboriginal Problem’. The new, (labour/socialist government) announced in the past couple of weeks that it is preparing a statement apologising for what has become known as The Stolen Generation. During the greater first of the C20 several thousand Aboriginal children were removed from the care and/or neglect of their families and placed in white foster homes in the cities on the grounds of thereby giving them a better start in life, health services, education etc, opportunities lacking where they came from. It led to horrific social ills in surviving adults today. Many in Aus today feel the current generations should apologise for what was done in the past, others feel that an apology will open up the courts to massive compensation claims; and point out that anyway, we have been pouring money in that direction for decades. Many don’t understand that 200 years is not enough time for a stone age people to fully adjust to european civilisation… these are people who have lived on the Australian continent dating back definitely 40,000 years, others claim up to 60,000. Which is staggering. It will be interesting to see how the apology, which is still being drafted, goes down when it appears, we have been promised it will be soon.

    On my frig are quite a few assorted magnets, some well designed but only one of them humorous (the gin and tonic diet one) These help hold up an assortment of information on pieces of paper – the menu for the mexican restaurant around the corner |(they deliver, margaritas and all) the phone numbers of the man who repairs the roller blinds which break fairly often, the informational pamphlet for the petshop/veterinarian we use, plus emergency services numbers; and a list of numbers of english-speaking friends or businesses who might be needed to assist non-spanish speaking family or friends staying in the house while we’re not here.

  8. 9 Olga February 5, 2008 at 9:05 am

    A wonderful photograph indeed. I see the fun in it: the children anticipating their performance, keyed up, while the official is just ‘out of it’, doubtless wishing he were back home. I love it.

    There is a Wikipedia page on the photographer: http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eckhard_Supp&sa=X&oi=translate&resnum=5&ct=result&prev=/search%3Fq%3DEckhard%2BSupp%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26channel%3Ds%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-GB:official%26hs%3DN6Q%26sa%3DG

    I tend to have one card at a time on my fridge. At present it is a Christmas present thank you postcard of an Inuit drawing in black grey and rust of owls which are both menacing and funny. I keep each card there until one arrives with which I want to replace it. Some cards stay for a year or more.

  9. 10 june February 4, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Eileen,

    You’ve thoroughly pegged my own interests in your postcard — it’s a fairly astonishing piece of art. The exotic “make-up” of the dancers and the fierce looks on their faces, alongside the western “guard” is truly creepy and otherworldly. The apparent symmetry is intellectually impossible — many menacing figures against one bored European — and that makes it even creepier. And it _is_ visually symmetrical

    What kind of relatives do you have, anyway? (insert snort)

    Alas, on my fridge I have only a magnet of a cut-out Frida Kahlo and a photo-magnet of the Pine Creek Gorge in north central Pennsylvania. Oh and a lot of magnets for tree services, Peets coffee, Call-a-Nurse, and so forth. Included in the mundane is the trash and yard debris pick-up days.

    I blame this on my husband, who is a practical and tidy sort.

    My (second) personal bulletin board, the one closest to my computer, is another story. Prints of Japanese screens with crows, a card with an image of a painting by Paul Allen Bennett, various poems, particularly about crows, a mass of materials so piled and pinned on one another as to be indecipherable, a ribbon from running a marathon, a postcard from an exhibit of contemporary Australian Aborigine paintings (seen in Helena Montana), figure drawings by my then-10-year-old granddaughter, and a dollar bill left besidemy bit of outdoor art (featuring crows and dragons) that resides next to our back fence. I think the $$ was a tribute.

    More than you wanted to know and not terribly artistic, either. A bit like my mind this evening.

  10. 11 Sue Reno February 3, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    That’s an astonishing photograph. I don’t find it amusing at all; the energy the dancers are projecting is intense. Thanks for sharing this.


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