Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Grogan the sellout Bogan

In 2008 I hooked up a Native Canadian artist/curator to submit a Letter to the Editor of an Australian art magazine speaking out against a young white artist who copies Yolgnu (and other) Aboriginal Art Designs, and later it was the impetus for a forum that followed in Sydney. At the time, Margaret Farmer took a stance and resigned from Safari, a Biennale of Sydney fringe event that she had co-founded - she is a white art curator in Sydney, where the artwork was being shown, and sold out. 

And just late last month, an Aboriginal artist in Brisbane and an Indian Australian artist in Melbourne have both quit their galleries in disgust about the rip-offs.  I am grateful that this issue is being aired again. Although its four years later, its still never too late to discuss rip-offs.

Over time, I have made many attempts to have the issue dealt with - contacting Aboriginal Community, the white art gallerists, and Grogan himself.  Interestingly there was never a response from the likes of Safari co-founder Lisa Corsi, Anna Pappas Gallery or Iain Dawson Gallery, but there was this brief and only, facebook response from Grogan: 

"thanks jenny. 
i've read the protocols. 
and look forward to seeing the film.
did you get a chance to see the show? if you'd be interested in starting a dialogue regarding the nature of my work i'd be up for that.
Wednesday, 2 July, 2008 4:57 PM

It seems to me that the "dialogue" card has been used by Grogan and his gallerists as a justification for way too long now. Since when does ripping off designs and also turning nasty on the original designer constitute "dialogue", and why propose "dialogue" after the event?
There are many positive examples of Aboriginal artists collaborating with others, but what has failed to be discussed in the media lately is that it wasn't just that Grogan was ripping off designs in order to make money, but also the context that he presented them in.  Bark paintings with gross portrayals of Aboriginal art, with Aboriginal people engaging in oral sex, boozing and vomiting which gallerist Iain Dawson described as "The other side to Grogan’s work is an intense social commentary on not only the figures he is representing but the manner in which he chooses to depict them. A white australian man exposing the seedy underbelly of what has become of the fragile indigenous population of this country is bound to ruffle some feathers."

Of course many Aboriginal people have objected and attempted to enter into the "dialogue". Here is a telling interview reply from gallerist Marita Smith: "It comes from a small group of people who are quite determined to derail Grogan's practice," she says. "I'm not prepared to censor the work because of a minority group who are offended by Grogan's work."  Which I would say, is a very Australian type of response in its signature style of twisted ownership, arrogance and denial.

In 2008, I thought that engaging a Native Canadian viewpoint might actually get Australians to pay attention - you know, the exotic other, over the tried and tested local Aboriginal viewpoints.  But more recently, I've put it to others and after much discussion, have decided that what we might need now is a white art critic to take issue with Grogans work and approach - coz it appears, whitey loves to only hear it from whitey.

Grogans profile really took off around the time of the original Letter to the Editor and the media interest that followed. He was just a student at the time, having sell out shows, and he is still happy to use the negative press on his website, without actually having any discussion with Aboriginal people.  
It also appears that Australians can appreciate and value Aboriginal art - particularly if they don't have to deal with Aboriginal artists at all.

Shame Australia! 

Here's the original letter of complaint fyi:

This is an article that followed shortly after in 2008:

Iain Dawsons blurb:

the Brisbane story 2012:

the Melbourne Story 2012:

Texta Queens personal response 2012:

NITV News story 2012:


  1. It is a shame that critical press actually helped him sell his cartoons. His work portrays a school yard level of voyeurism towards indigenous people,sex and drinking. The fact that he is so "popular" among some consumers illustrates that there is till a negative sentiment towards the indigenous people of Australia. It also says a lot about privilege and how the Australian art world support of privileged white artists.

  2. Hi Jenny: It's still the same here in Canada.

    Large gift-ware and souvenir companies continue to take advantage of our artists by using their designs to slap onto any and all commercially viable/profit-making consumer products, and not paying the artist at all!

    One middleman in particular only gives the artist a few product samples 'for free', with the option to purchase more at wholesale prices...all this without paying the artist any royalty whatsoever!! He figures he's doing the artists a big favor! YIKES!

    Immoral, but apparently not illegal.

    And white artists who continue to create works 'inspired by native designs' also continue to get more exhibits, residencies, grant funds, notoriety etc AND they become known as 'experts' on Native art and Native art history. Go figure!

    We still do not have funding for Aboriginal arts organizations, yet there are over 80 community arts councils throughout British Columbia alone - each receiving provincial arts funding.

    Whenever I have mentioned this, these community arts councils cry 'ya, but it's not that much money AND it recently got cut'...so I respond with - 'at least you're getting something, we're not getting ANYTHING'!

    I'm running out of ideas and I'm growing weary from constantly fighting this fight.

    Trying to stay positive that things will change soon! Your blog plus FB posts really help! Thanks for that!

    Lou-ann Ika'wega Neel