The fascination with the savage ‘Other’

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Thursday 11 October 2012
Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh

A look at the Lounge room Tribalism series of paintings by Graham Fletcher inHome AKL by Gallery Guide Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh

Western cultures have always had a fascination with the ‘other’. The term ‘other’ is derived from the concept of Orientalism and the Arabesque, with the West colonising the ‘savage’ and indoctrinating them into the new world, supposedly civilising them towards global integration. Unfortunately, Colonialism still exists in complex forms today.

Graham Fletcher’s series of paintings and sculptures Lounge Room Tribalism combines the familiar and the unknown, the primitive and the modern. Home AKL includes two paintings and five sculptures from this large body of work. By introducing the ideas of the fascination with the ‘other’ to the audience in the first room, the curators set the tone for the exhibition.

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Graham Fletcher, Untitled, 2010
from Lounge Room Tribalism
oil on canvas, The University of Auckland Art Collection

Within the Untitled paintings, there is a juxtaposition of two cultures in one composition. You see fertility and God-like totems next to psychedelic patterns of fabric, wallpaper and furniture. What is striking is that they are ‘Tribal’ objects’ set inside a modernist interior. 

Holding onto the past and keeping its memory is what is interesting with this painting series. It is as if these worlds have always co-existed  (coloniser, colonised) within these living room compositions. These paintings tell a visual story. They slowly reveal themselves and prompt many questions. What is behind the desire to domesticate the primitive? What are these indigenous artefacts, which disturb modern design doing in suburban homes around the country?

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Graham Fletcher, Untitled, 2010
from Lounge Room Tribalism
oil on canvas, courtesy of Melanie Roger Gallery

The objects demand attention and command a physical presence, may it be just curiosity or a sense of bringing the spiritual back to the suburbs. They are taken out of their original use and context and placed in a new ‘home’. There, they become inactive and join the vases, picture frames and coffee table books. Now these objects of culture and tradition are transformed into exotic household interior design. Detached of cultural significance, they have lost their function and are fetishized.

For a more comprehensive look into the ideas behind Graham Fletcher's paintings, I recommend the publication produced by Mangere Arts Centre. It is a well-executed catalogue in design and writing content, well worth a read.