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Human justice barometer


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, Paddington in Sydney's eastern suburbs till Saturday 16 November. From January, it will go on tour to Melbourne, Hobart and regional NSW.  It is also on display in the Blake Society's Online Gallery.

Peter Kirkwood headshot smilingPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Blake Prize, human justice, art, Rod Pattenden, Trevor Nikolls, Rodney Pople, Eureka Street



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Existing comments

There is no originality nor genius in the works by Rodney Pople. Only ugliness and plagiarism. He is most defiantly no Francis Bacon http://www.askyfilledwithshootingstars.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/06_francis-bacon_head-vi_1949.jpg

Bernstein | 05 November 2013  

Leonard French, a committedly secular character, was, in my opinion, one of the most outstanding winners of the Blake Prize. Some of his other art, based on religious themes, is even more inspiring. It touches people in a deeper place than their normal hyperactive minds. I think all the great religious leaders including Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad did this. There is a place within all of us where we can confront the numinous. Any genuine confrontation with the numinous must, I think, result, over time, in a re-evaluation of the social order. Jesus saw this clearly, although he was not a social revolutionary of the immediatist sort. Nonetheless, his religion continues to result in genuine social change when put into practice as he demonstrated in his life and work. Social justice, to me, is an outgrowth of genuine religion or genuine spirituality, even though the latter, as in Leonard French's case, may be secular. I think atheists and agnostics may be far closer to God than the self-confessedly religious. One of the tragic ironies of modern Australian religion of the Christian variety is the seeming disconnect between real spirituality and social action with an almost complete emphasis on the latter. Long term this disconnect could be disastrous.

Edward F | 06 November 2013  

Great to read about the Blake Exhibition and very heartening to know there will be a visit to regional NSW. I hope to have the opportunity to see the entries. Also thanks to Stephanie Dowrick.

Pam | 06 November 2013  

Great to see the work of Peter Kirkwood featured in Eureka Street again. Peter, you have been missed and I for one look forward to seeing more of his insightful work in both print and video. Beyond social justice I think that each year the Blake Prize reflects back something of the spiritual currents that flow through Australian culture.

John Francis Collins | 06 November 2013  

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