Bianca Beetson: Being Human
I am a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, an aunt, a sister, an artist, an activist, a teacher, a leader, a student, a cook, a cleaner and a nurse…an Aboriginal way of being is deeply imprinted on my DNA.
- BIANCA BEETSON
In Being Human, Bianca Beetson presented the nuanced contours of her Aboriginality and challenges the definitions of contemporary Australian identity. Her sense of self is deeply impacted by her family history. Her mother is of English, Scottish and Irish heritage, while her father is of Aboriginal (Kabi Kabi, Wuradjuri, Kamilaroi and Kutji Landji), Romany Gypsy and English heritage. Her paternal grandparents denied their Aboriginality to avoid the repercussions of the Aboriginal Protection Act of 1869. This act gave the Australian government extensive control over almost all aspects of Aboriginal people’s lives, including the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families. Children of mixed heritage or those with lighter skin were more likely to be taken, making Bianca’s family members more vulnerable. Often they passed themselves off as being of Maori, Indian, Mexican or Spanish origin instead. This denial left a legacy in Bianca’s childhood, as she was also encouraged to “think and act white.” She describes the social isolation of being “‘not black enough’ to fit in with the black kids and ‘not white enough’ to fit in with the white kids.”
In 2014, Beetson began her Selfie Series, in which she made 365 self-portraits, one for every day of the year. In each individual portrait, she carefully captures a facet of herself as an Indigenous woman, rejecting the notion that any identity is singular. Some use mockery and humor to critique white Australian ideologies, while others reference the work of fellow Indigenous artists or articulate everyday feelings and experiences. As a whole, Beetson aims to supplant the historical oversimplification of Aboriginality with a richer insight into the complexity of contemporary urban Indigenous identity and, ultimately, of Being Human.
Beetson visited Kluge-Ruhe from February 7 – March 2, 2016. During her residency, Beetson worked with students from the Department of Art and the International Residence College at UVA and members of the community to construct a kitsch version of a possum skin cloak made from the red Sesame Street character, Elmo. She lined the cloak with American flags. The Elmo-skin cloak was exhibited at the end of the residency during a reception at the Department of Art in Ruffin Hall (Final Fridays). Later, it was added to her exhibition at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. Beetson also worked side-by-side with Professor Megan Marlett to learn the process of building a large head (capogrosso) in the Spanish papier-mâché tradition. Such big heads are typically used in European street festivals. Beetson completed her big head and took it back to Australia. Students and community members engaged with Bianca Beetson through a number of public speaking events, including a gallery tour and artist talk, and more casual meetings at receptions. She delivered a guest lecture on The Black See for a class on Art and Athletics and consulted with a team of students in an Arts Administration class about how to construct a code of ethics for museums. Beetson gave a live radio interview on UVA’s station, WTJU and also assisted with a writing/art project from English as a Second language (ESL) students from a local middle school.
This exhibition and residency were supported by Australia Council for the Arts, Queensland College of Art, the UVA McIntire Department of Art, and the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts, UVA.
ABOUT Bianca Beetson
Beetson was born in Roma, Queensland and has a Bachelor of Visual Arts from the Queensland University of Technology. She is known for her involvement in the artist collective proppaNOW and her use of the color pink in her work. Beetson frequently employs humor and satire in a variety of media to critique the popular culture, challenge the demarcation of art, artifact and kitsch, expose colonial and post-colonial ideologies and express her ideas about femininity. Beeton’s work explores her experience of growing up as a fair-skinned Aboriginal woman and the legacies of the Aboriginal Protection Act. She is currently the Director of Indigenous Research at Griffiths University in Queensland.