Racism rears its ugly head

The emotions registered on Anthony James Proberts’ face one after another: puzzlement, disbelief, dismay, distress and anger.
The 3 Rivers Aboriginal art space had been invaded.
Someone had chalked on an interior wall.
“Hello nigga - KKK”.
On Monday Anthony had been driving past the Magellan St gallery and had noticed a similar message spray-painted on the front exterior wall.
“I thought, ‘what’s going on here?’ Why do people do that?,” he said. “Why can’t people try to be inclusive rather than destroy stuff? people can’t allow success.
“I can’t put it into words, I just wonder why people want to do that, deface an area that can be beneficial to both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people?
“Look, it might be kids for a prank but, irrespective, putting that graffiti on the wall, now people will focus on that rather than the positive space that is 3 Rivers,” he said.
“I thought about Nulingah (Aboriginal land corporation whose building was similarly defaced), Sydney, Dubbo and Nowra where people have invaded houses. “Why does someone do something so negative? It’s only months old, since we’ve had centre, negative stuff like this might prevent support of the 3 Rivers for fear of retribution, the wider community included.
“It’s disrespectful to Aboriginal people of the area. I’m also a visitor in the area.
“We should build bridges together to be an inclusive community, not build walls to divide communities.”
The other artists involved in the 3 Rivers with whom The Echo spoke all declined to be in a photograph, saying they wanted to wait until they’d had a chance to digest what had happened and formulate a group response.
But the artists all expressed concerns that the graffiti would detract from the positive aspects of the gallery.
On Wednesday evening, local artist Penny Evans was awarded the 2009 Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art Prize College of Fine Arts (COFA) Professional Development Award, which includes a two week residency and solo exhibition at the EPS Gallery at COFA’s campus in Paddington.
Three other artists from the Northern Rivers were also finalists; Frances Belle-Parker, Michael Philp and Karla Dickens.
Penny said she was over the moon about winning the award.
“I’m overwhelmed, it’s a fabulous opportunity for my professional development and I’m very much looking forward to doing it,” Penny said. “I work really hard, I’m having a solo show in December.
“The opportunity from winning is great, a residency at the College of Fine Arts is fantastic.”
Penny said she was over the moon about winning the award but was distraught about the graffiti.
“It’s like a stab in the heart, it’s revolting. We’re trying to do something really positive there, it’s just such an ugly negative slap in the face. “It’s so gutless, to be nameless and faceless, we don’t know who they are... I think racism comes from within families and it’s passed on through generations,” she said. “My first child is about to start primary school, I’m fearful the history they’re being taught is not accurate.
“I know there has been a growing awareness since the 70s when my Aboriginality was denied, I was told part of my family didn’t exist.
“Racism is learnt.
“Non-Indigenous people need to be confronting non-Indigenous people. In a one-on-one situation, if it’s safe enough to do it, call people on racist remarks – but only if it’s safe and not threatening. Confront people when you do hear stuff, people just let it ride.”
Frances Belle-Parker has been co-ordinating the 3 Rivers, which runs mentoring programs for young artists and workshops as well as providing a space for local Indigenous artists to work and hang their completed pieces.
“It’s frightening, that there is that (racist) element,” she said. “When I first heard of it, I felt kind of disgusted but that’s eased away. It doesn’t make us look bad, but it’s distressing that sort of thing is still in the mindset of some people in the region.
“A month or two ago, one of the windows was smashed too, now I wonder if it was same people.”
Asked what she’d like to say to the person who did the graffiti Frances said she wouldn’t know where to start.
“It’s taken us so long to get to this point, over four years and I wouldn’t want to say anything. They haven’t gotten to me or us, as artists, it’s their loss, if that’s how they feel, if they have that mindset there’s not much I can do to help that really.”
Frances was in Sydney last night for the awards presentation.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have a work in it every year since it started (in 2002), it’s one of the nights of the year,” she said. “The number of finalists from the Northern Rivers is steadily on the rise every year. It’s kind of like people are actually starting to sit up and take notice, some of the Northern Rivers artists who never even knew this award existed are now finalists.”
Inspector Mick Heap of Lismore Police Station said the matter was still under investigation and anyone who had any information that could assist in the identity of the vandals should contact local police or crime stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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