Vandalism Of The Decolonisers

Written by:
11 April 2024
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In this article, Bella d’Arbrera contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into the teaching of history at universities, conducted as part of the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program.

The Foundations of Western Civilisation Program was established in 2011 to defend and extend Australians’ understanding of the influential, historical role of the West in establishing many of the liberties enjoyed by members of our society.

Australia’s rich cultural history is being deliberately destroyed

It is a rare thing in today’s woke world not to be disappointed by our cultural institutions. Thus, on a recent trip to the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Sydney Modern Project, I was not disappointed to find it bereft of both art and visitors. I was, however, extremely disappointed to discover the iconoclasts have been hard at work in the 153-year-old gallery next door. I’m not referring to the noisy agitators with their bad slogans and their soup and their glue, but to the activists who are quietly ‘decolonising’ the institution from within.

This new generation of curators have taken it upon themselves to re-write the descriptions which accompany the collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century Australian art through the lens of ‘post-colonial’ theory. The old labels, which once enlightened interested parties with an insight into the artist’s creative practice or what the artwork’s imagery might have meant, have been replaced by a series of political manifestos designed to elicit guilt about the evils of colonialism and the remarkable civilisation that produced it.

Take Eugene von Guérard’s 1865 Sydney Heads for example. According to the new label, this is not a sweeping view of Vaucluse Bay painted in the tradition of German Romanticism, but proof that only the Aboriginal has the ecological wisdom and knowledge to look after the natural environment. ‘When colonisers arrived in Warrane/Sydney Cove aboard the First Fleet in 1788,’ we are told, ‘They struggled to establish successful farms. Yet this was a productive landscape that had been managed by the Gadigal people for many millennia.’

Similarly, despite appearances, Conrad Martens’ 1848 View of Sydney Cove is not really a ‘scene of poetic tranquility’ but a depiction of invasion and dispossession. ‘Martens’, they declare, ‘symbolically reinforces colonial law and prosperity. The newly built Government House emerges as a luminous beacon visually encoding Gadigal lands and waters as gleaming subjects of British rule.’

Meanwhile, the first ‘fact’ the viewer learns about John Glover’s 1838 Natives on the Ouse River, Van Diemen’s Land is that ‘the 33-year war between pakana (Tasmanian Aboriginal people) and colonisers was nearing its end when English artist, John Glover emigrated to lutruwita/Tasmania.’  Finally, we are told that the most important aspect of Russell Drysdale’s striking Wall of China painted in 1912 is that, ‘The area of Lake Mungo is important Country belonging to the Barkindjii, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngiyampaa peoples.’

Unfortunately, the decolonisation does not stop at simply re-writing our history. Hanging between the Glovers, the von Guérards and the Martens are a number of contemporary works whose presence can only be described as disruptive, vengeful and petty. Take Joan Ross’ 2017 I will miss you copying things which features headless birds representing ‘violent and destructive acts committed by settlers and their descendants’. On another wall we find Daniel Boyd’s 2007 Sir No Beard, in which the artist ‘challenges both the viewer and colonial perspective’ to expose ‘the roles the subjects played in subjugating the Aboriginal people and taking part in acts of piracy’. Meanwhile, Christian Thompson makes an excruciatingly woke statement about ‘objectification, Eurocentrism, and interrogating “historical truths”’ in his 2016 Othering the explorer, James Cook.

Thanks to the efforts of the in-house cultural revolutionaries, an excursion to the gallery has been transformed from an enjoyable and culturally enriching experience to one in which we are left demoralised and culturally impoverished. The public is no longer permitted the simple pleasure of admiring the artistic skill required to produce beautiful paintings. For the decolonisers, our enjoyment is not only irrelevant, but morally wrong. We must be beaten over our heads with a political cudgel and, above all, made to feel guilty. Guilty about the First Fleet’s arrival in 1788, guilty about the success of the colony and guilty about enjoying the rich cultural and intellectual fruits of Western civilisation in 2024.

That the visitor experience is dramatically diminished is of little concern to the cultural commissars who believe that they alone are the force of righteousness. They are going about their mission to rid the gallery of Western culture, as depicted in art produced by white Westerners, with puritanical zealousness. Not a single painting has escaped their ire, as every painting is viewed as a symbol of Western civilisation’s racism, supremacy and oppression.

Where did they learn to hate our civilisation with such vengeance? At university of course, from the academic community which has long rejected the Western canon as not just an embarrassment but ‘white supremacy writ large’.

It is at university they have been equipped with the tools to decolonise every cultural institution in this country. The Australian National University currently offers ‘Decolonising Methodologies and other Indigenous Perspectives on Research’, which teaches students to ‘critically challenge problematic “truths” and other powerful ideas that have contributed to the dispossession and marginalisation of First Nations’ People’. In Victoria, La Trobe University offers ‘Colonising Australia’s First Peoples’ which encourages students to ‘examine the relationship between the discipline of history and colonialism, including the problems created when knowledge is constructed using the colonial archive’.

It is in the corridors of the humanities departments they are schooled in the theories of Marxist political philosopher Frantz Fanon, who claimed that colonialism is a machine of ‘naked violence’. They have, it seems, taken to heart Fanon’s admonition that, ‘Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well’ and that ‘what matters is not to know the world but to change it’. Unfortunately, their hostile and short-sighted attempt to change the world by decolonising the collection one painting at a time is not just culturally denuding our society; taken to its logical conclusion, this movement will ultimately result in a wholesale cleansing of the gallery.

Every precious painting of the Western canon will be taken off the wall, wrapped in brown paper and hidden in the basement, leaving nothing of any value at all for future generations.

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