Juno Gemes


Andrew Sayers
Actions On Film... So Much More Than Words
Frances Peters-Little
Incontra Personale
Rhonda Davis
For Hands In Each Other's Pockets
Barry Hill
Juno Gemes


The Long March for Justice and Hope

Portraits from The Movement 1978 – 2003

Actions On Film... So Much More Than Words

Frances Peters-Little

With every footstep, and every movement, another milestone has been taken, if not by individuals, then by the masses that followed them. Although many of their voices may no longer be heard on our streets, in our homes, or in our communities, what they once aimed to teach us continues to resonate in our daily lives and in the eternal spirit for equality and justice. However, recording their actions on film provides us with so much more than words. It provides us with a face, an impression and a humanity that underpins the rhetoric of its time. It is the ‘proof’ that Aborigines have fought and struggled for what must surely be theirs in the first instance.

At a time when it is widely suggested that only Aboriginal photographers are capable of encapsulating the true essence of Aboriginality, this extraordinary body of work by Hungarian-born photographer Juno Gemes emerges, making this exhibition unquestionably one of the most extensive and intriguing visual records of Aboriginal portraiture and activism. Embodying scores of Aboriginal leaders, events, memories and characters, Gemes has ‘framed’an essential episode in Australian political history.

As an Aboriginal woman who has worked with Gemes several times, I know that she has not spent more than thirty years of her life photographing Aboriginal people because one is supposed to be ‘politically correct’, but that she has done this for herself, as any real artist should. Gemes’s work is about trying to represent and comprehend a country that moreover lacks the ability to see the beauty and strength of Aboriginal peoples’ determination to maintain their identity and land. Her decision to pick for this exhibition what is perhaps one of the most ‘prickly’ aspects in Aboriginal public imagery, such as activism, and refusing to go for the soft option such as exoticising or romanticising Aboriginal culture, is a credit to her capacity, which is, in my opinion, a far cry from so many of her predecessors and contemporaries.

Remarkably captured by photographer Juno Gemes, Proof: Portraits from The Movement 1978-2003 is an exhibition where one is able to link significant Indigenous personalities to crucial political and cultural events and developments in Australian history. Images from the seventies i.e. final year dancers from the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre, or Arakun elders in a ceremony, to images signifying changes in the new millennium, ie. Aunty Florence Kennedy, pondering a NSW native title claim, or portraits of Stolen Children performers at the Yeperenye Festival in Alice Springs. The themes in the exhibition are The Persuaders, The Activists, The Cultural Teachers, The Community, Dance, Music, Art, Writing,Theatre and Film, the National Land Rights movement, the Uluru Handback Ceremony, Invasion Day 1988 and NAIDOC Week 1977. Various communities include Redfern, Blacktown, La Perouse, Glebe, Walgett, Cowra, Nimbin, Brisbane, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Central Australia and the Top End.

The exhibition includes portraits of Lyall Munro Senior and Lyall Munro Jr, Bob Weatherall, Lionel Fogerty, Maureen Watson, Jeffrey Samuels, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Kevin Gilbert, Leila Rankine, Reverend Charles Harris, Bill Reid, Isabel Coe, Billy Cragie, Michael Anderson, Florence Kennedy, Millie Boyd, Wandjuk Marika, Yami Lester, Gary Foley, Roberta Sykes, Marcia Langton, Mum Shirl, Kumatjay Perkins and daughter Rachel Perkins. Yuin descendants are; Burnham Burnham, Guboo Ted Thomas, Percy Mumbler, Kevin Cook, Chicka Dixon, Bobby McLeod and Jimmy Little and his wife Marjorie, grandson James Henry and daughter Frances Peters-Little . As well as Essie Coffey, Ernie Dingo, Justine Saunders, Bob Maza, Yvonne Goolagong-Cawley, Stephen Page, Sylvia Blanco, Lydia Miller, Gerry Bostock, Tommy Lewis and even Slim Dusty and the former Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam.

As historian and as a filmmaker, I am struck by the strong historical significance of this exhibition. Let us make no mistake; this exhibition is an opinionated one, albeit human, personal or nostalgic. It reflects just what Senator Aden Ridgeway advocates: ‘With every action and every word we make history. But it’s the subsequent actions – how that history is recorded; how that history is interpreted, then how that history is used; that make the written historical record.’ It is an exhibition that emerges from a most unlike y and peculiar time, for example it follows a time when Australia’s Prime Minister, John Howard, advocated Australians should become more ‘ relaxed and comfortable’ about Australian history, or waged unwarranted condemnation against hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians who marched against war this year. It is an exhibition that is timely and speaks to many who remember another time when people were not humiliated for being politically outspoken .

In full acknowledgement to the dedication of artist and photographer, Juno Gemes, and to the insightfulness of Andrew Sayers, the Director of Australia’s National Portrait Gallery, the images in this exhibition say many things to many people. For some it may mean just another Aboriginal photography exhibition, but it is so much more than that. In fact, it is far more gritty and courageous. It provides an opportunity for many Australians to reflect on our recent history or as a means to pay homage to those dynamic activists, artists and teachers of the past and the present, who indubitably have changed that way we think of our selves, our land and our shared histories.