Accepting truth heals national conscience
THE strong fairground colours and bright lighting in Scott Harrower's photographic exhibition Fighting Not Dancing are in stark relief to the trauma his art seeks to convey.
But when prominent commentator and LGBTI+ activist Benjamin Law was asked to come to Lismore Regional Gallery to talk about the history of gay Australia during the exhibition's run, he understood exactly the "meaning” Mr Harrower was seeking to "telegraph”.
"This is a nation of forgetting and erasing,” Mr Law said.
Australia was a country that erased the histories of its women, Chinese, African and indigenous people, he said, and it had "erased the rich and sombre history of its queer communities, often forged in violence”.
What both he and Mr Harrower had in common, he said, was "we believe it is important to tell the hidden stories of the LGBTI+ community and put them back at the centre of the national narrative to build understanding of each other and ourselves”.
Mr Harrower's staged photographs are accompanied by an "evocative cinematic score” by New York composer Ron Nahass.
The score was created to accompany the representations of violence between men and "make you feel uncomfortable”.
The exhibition is inspired by Mr Harrower's own experience of a violent relationship with a man, as well as bullying he experienced growing up and in the workplace due to being gay.
He said the recent marriage equality debate reminded him of coming out at 16 years old, into a homophobic and fearful society, one gripped by the AIDS epidemic.
The judgment he received was his "own living horror film, hence the cinematic aesthetic in the work”, he said.
His work is an attempt to "take our broken hearts and turn them into art”.
"Research shows that power-based or situational homosexuality was common in colonial Australia,” Mr Harrower said.
The exhibition harks back to Australia's denied colonial history, which has been "absorbed into the national psyche as fear and shame”.
"I hope audiences will grasp the long-term impact this can have on a community, especially in today's political debates around equality,” he said.
During the talk, Mr Law spoke of the fear he experienced growing up as a queer boy on Queensland's mono-cultural Sunshine Coast.
He described his confusion upon leaving regional Queensland to discover Australia was a nation of many cultures "that did not represent itself by the way it looked on the streets”.
"I was a Mariah Carey-loving, gym-obsessed, flamboyant as hell, flamingly gay kid - but I was not openabout my sexuality,” hesaid.
"How could I be? Back then it was a terrifying prospect to be gay and, I venture to say, it still is.”
Mr Law said 1990s Australia was a "grim” time in our history when gay men were "hunted”.
"We need to look it in the face and honour the dead if we are to make any progress in moving forward together,” Mr Law said.