In 2017, I wrote a travelogue essay for Runway Journal’s Issue #35. My text, A Short Despatch from the Garden of the Generalissimos, described the process of monument removal in Taiwan. Specifically, I considered the way in which statues representing Chiang Kai-shek have been re-sited and conceptually de-activated.
I also contrasted the attitude of Taiwan and Australia towards their respective monuments. That same year, in response to an incident of anti-colonial graffiti on the plinths of Hyde Park’s Macquarie and James Cook statues, the Australian government had increased protections for colonial monuments, even proposing 7 years jail time for vandals.
In June this year, as Black Lives Matter protests expanded in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, racist monuments were toppled or removed in the US. Initially targeting Confederate memorials, protesters also began to confront representations of Christopher Columbus and other slavers and colonisers.
The anti-colonial momentum soon reached Europe. Slaver Edward Colston was torn down and rolled into the Bristol harbour, England. Two days later, the genocidal King Leopold II was defaced and removed in Antwerp, Belgium. Images of these actions became tangible emblems of collective resistance.
In Australia, colonial monuments are similarly ubiquitous, and police are similarly defined by their violence and racism – and yet the destruction of a single statue is utterly unimaginable. I find myself again considering a contrast: why is Australia different?
This question was made manifest on 13 June, in the now well-known image of NSW police surrounding Hyde Park’s monument to James Cook. Overseas, monuments were felled, fragmented, embellished, appropriated, deconstructed, disappeared, decapitated, demolished. Entire police departments were driven from precincts. Back in Australia, ‘Cops around Cook’ became our enduring image of those months; a blunt reassertion of white supremacism, policing and the colonial occupation of public space. Have we ever, in a single image, seen Australia more accurately summarised?
For Issue #42 Archive, I’ve created some ‘imagined desecrations’: some drawings of things that didn’t happen. Like both Australia’s history and national character, they are fabrications.
Matt Chun is an artist and writer working from a small coastal town on Yuin land. He also divides his time between Naarm/Melbourne and Taipei. His work spans drawing, portraiture, text, comics and picture books.
Matt is a current Creative Fellow at the State Library of Victoria, examining colonialism within Australian children’s literature. He has previously written for Art Monthly Australasia, Overland Literary Journal, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Meanjin Quarterly and Liminal Magazine. He is also co-creator, alongside contemporary artist James Tylor, of Australian history project Un Monumental.
Matt is currently producing a body of drawing for the National Museum of Australia.
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