Author(s): Vincent Namatjira
Despite finding their bearings amidst the pillars of colonialism, power and First Nations identity, Vincent Namatjira’s paintings are almost impossibly light and personal in their candour. Wranglings with race, politics and the empire coalesce with humour, humility and personal history. We grin as much as we grimace. Made while in lockdown on the APY Lands in remote Central Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic, the works that populate Namatjira’s debut artist book The Royal Tour are as intimate as they are interventionist. Painting directly onto the pages of commemorative royal photo-books that he had stumbled across at op-shops in Alice Springs, Namatjira – whose famed great grandfather Albert Namatjira won the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal in 1953 for his services to art and went on to meet the monarch in 1954 – places himself front-and-centre amidst the pageantry of various historical royal occasions, engagements and tours. Here, he rides shotgun in the Gold State Coach with the Queen, waving the Aboriginal flag out the window; gives a grinning thumbs-up from the Buckingham Palace balcony; and leads Charles and Diana on an outback tour. But for Namatjira – who, in 2020 alone, became the first Indigenous Australian artist to win the Archibald Prize and was awarded an Order of Australia Medal – the devil is in the detail. As he offers in fellow Indigenous artist Tony Albert’s essay for the book: 'Whenever I paint powerful figures like the Royals, I’m trying to take away some of their colonial power and ownership. I use a mischievous self-portrait and a bit of cheeky humour as a kind of equaliser, a way of putting everyone on the same level … When I place an Aboriginal person front-and-centre or use the Aboriginal flag in a painting, it is as a symbol of our strength and resilience.'