Perhaps Joseph Akel’s approach to Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s Taboo is a touch too bound up in a white man’s guilt. This discussion is a politically correct illumination of the components of the exhibition as if they have arisen as a morally superior depiction of historical colonial transgressions, reconciling racist tropes in a reconstruction of taboos. Tracey Moffat, Brook Andrew -the show’s curator and South African Anton Kannemeyer are the artists named and are perhaps only coincidentally all of indigenous descent.
Instead, following Akel’s last words “the painful but necessary remainder and reminder of past transgressions” one could instead focus on the emotive and transcendental power of the exhibition. The dimly lit rooms and black walls become those dark crevices of our subconscious- where we keep our collective past faults and contemporary concerns in check.
Taboo was a disquieting exhibition, not for its ability to arouse moral consternation in the audience but rather as it had the power to draw tears. The constant flash of indigenous faces appearing ubiquitously from the darkness in works such as Leah Gordon’s Caste, acted as a constant unmasking of those people destroyed or lost, only re-appearing for a moment from the darkness as if plucked from our ancestral memory. Jompet’s installation, War of Java, Do you remember, #3, on the other hand presents faceless soldiers, whose empty clothes hang as if on a body, standing in the formation of some imperial army, blindly following authority. Of course they command authority too, and our attention, with their imperial regalia and loud drumming. During the installation’s performance, a shot from one of the soldier’s rifles rings out. Perhaps trying to wake us up to what we have tried to relegate as too taboo for conversation, or even to remember? Taboo has explored the dark spaces of our memory and conscience, drawing us face to face with those lost and those racist tropes and actions we have tried to forget. This exhibition takes us on a transcendental journey where we are left to question our tears.