For an older generation of Australians the word ‘Palestine’ was and remains synonymous with the WW1 campaign in which Australian soldiers were prominently involved.
The charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba in 1917 became enshrined in public memory as a symbol of a ‘young’ Australia, bloodied (and blooded) by Gallipoli but not beaten. This event, under Australian command, was the last mounted charge ever conducted in the history of warfare.
WW1 Official War Artist George Lambert’s 1920 reconstruction of the event, The charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 31 October 1917 is held in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection. Another of Lambert’s paintings, A Sergeant of Light Horse in Palestine, in the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection, is an enduring reminder of the regard in which the Light Horsemen were held. It embodies values of courage, inner strength and a disregard for valorisation of war.
After this conflict the men of the Light Horse went back to life on the land. But progressively, as communities set about remembering the fallen, war memorials grew up across metropolitan and rural Australia. A number prominently bear to this day the place name ‘Palestine’. In the wake of the current day ‘Arab Spring’ Australians have been occasionally reminder of their nation’s military involvement across the Arab world. Last year’s desecration by militants of Commonwealth War Graves in Libya may have brought this involvement to the attention of a younger generation with little knowledge of Australia’s long involvement in the region.
The Contemporary Art Centre’s current exhibition Palestine is the second exhibition to be presented within the Shifting Sands series (previous exhibition November – December 2012). The ‘shifting sands’ metaphor has been employed to convey some sense of the fluidity of events and perspectives associated with what the world now routinely knows as the ‘Arab Spring’. The unprecedented changes affecting societies across the Middle East are mirrored in the visual arts which commentators describe these days as ‘edgy’ and ‘provocative’. With this has come a division of opinion, within the Arab world, about the legitimacy of this ‘opening up’ to a perceived outside world, using artistic strategies associated with European counter-culture movements.
Palestine, the exhibition, incorporates installation and video works by Tom Nicholson (Australia), Cornelia Parker (UK), Michael Rakowitz (USA), Khaled Hourani (Palestine) and Larissa Sansour (Palestine). Curator Alan Cruikshank offers the perspective that this project is less about a ‘Spring’ thematic and more a focus on ‘power points’ which can be associated with a number of factors including fading dreams of peoples united under a banner of Pan-Arabism. Tom Nicholson’s Comparative monument (Palestine), which references monuments bearing the name ‘Palestine’ around Melbourne, embodies the ambivalence demanded of art which has a mind to ‘say something’ when sensible utterance and clear solutions look impossible.
Shifting Sands: Palestine
Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia
Continues until Sunday, March 31
Image: Nation Estate – Olive Tree, C-print, 75x150cm, Larissa Sansour, 2012.