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Human justice barometer

  • 06 November 2013

The annual Blake Prize is described on its website as 'exploring the themes of spirituality, religion and human justice'. 

In the early years after the prize began in 1951 religion and spirituality dominated and artworks largely portrayed conventional Christian themes and symbols. But since then it has broadened in scope to embrace multifaith Australia and deeper concerns for human peace and justice.

In fact the Blake Exhibition each year is a good barometer of the social justice issues of the day, and this year's exhibition that opened in Sydney a few weeks ago is no exception.

This video features some of the works hung in the exhibition that examine current burning justice issues: persecution of minorities, even to the extent of genocide that seem to recur around the globe with alarming regularity; sexual abuse in the church and the failure of church leaders to deal with it; and reconciliation between Aboriginal and white Australia.

The video is presented by Rod Pattenden who is a very able guide through this territory. He is a Uniting Church minister, the current chair of the Blake Society which administers the prize, and his doctoral thesis looked into the history of the prize.

There are also brief interviews with some of the artists about the inspiration and content of their work. Adelaide-based Franz Kempf talks about his confronting painting called 'The Outrageous Has Become Commonplace' which won this year's Blake Human Justice Award.

The judges described it as 'a deserving winner and a stark challenge to us to recognise the great human tragedy of failing to heal the gouges, wounds and gaps in the delivery of a secure and pervasive protection against human rights abuse.'

Rodney Pople who lives in Sydney speaks about his very striking painting entitled 'Night Dance'. It portrays children dancing in a ring around a cardinal who has his face turned skyward and, with his mouth wide open, appears to be howling to the heavens. It has obvious allusions to the sexual abuse crisis in the church.

The final work featured in the video is the winner of this year's Blake Prize, a painting called 'Metamorphosis' by eminent Aboriginal artist Trevor Nickolls who died at the end of 2012. His close friend and executor of his estate, Angelika Tyrone, reflects on the painting as a depiction of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia.

The 2013 Blake Exhibition can be seen at the University of NSW College of Fine Arts Gallery,