Curatorial essay – RAZZLE DAZZLE, across Brisbane, 2021

RAZZLE DAZZLE skewers, upends, and subverts your first impressions.

Taking place across Brisbane’s City Council’s Outdoor Gallery, the works of this public exhibition intrinsically consider what it means to occupy public space, and what it means to be ‘on show’.

Visibility is complex; it is never without risk or vulnerability. For the many of us with bodies and faces that diverge from “the norm” (in small or large ways, and whether visible or hidden), it can be particularly fraught. These differences can make us feel invisible in public; not considered, not welcome, actively overlooked, and delegitimised. This can be particularly true if our differences are not visible, or we are made to feel that they must remain hidden.

Conversely, many of us may feel hypervisible; under constant scrutiny, subject to unwanted attention, leers or disapproval, stereotyped or fetishised.

RAZZLE DAZZLE begins to upset this usual power dynamic of public space. Through techniques of camouflage, adornment, costume, and visual distortion, the artists of RAZZLE DAZZLE play with visual signifiers of identity – in many cases, actively reconstituting their own through exaggerated self-portraiture (as in Gerwyn Davies’ Prawn and Poodle; Luke Robert’s Pope Alice works, and Justin Shoulder & Bhenji Ra’s Deep Alamat – all works that link the queer with the alien figure).

In other cases, visual designs, loaded with significance, stand in place of a known figure removed from view (as in Eric Bridgeman’s Style Flawa, drawing on personal histories), the unknown figure (as in Natalya Hughes utilisation of “feminine” design to recreate anonymous women in Maybe I Was Painting the Woman In Me), or the mostly absent figure (as in Gartside’s undulating Illusion Quilt, spun by disembodied arms).

Other works very explicitly play with cultural stereotypes – Sancintya Mohini Simpson’s portraits of herself and her friends, all of varied Asian heritages, does this through a performative mockery; while Richard Bell’s enormous banner articulates a blatant refusal to play the “noble savage”, ensconced in concentric circles of Aboriginal designs.

Jemima Wyman’s collages of protesters, in their kaleidoscopic shapes, amplify the camouflage strategies of “tactical frivolity”. This infusion of theatrics into political demonstration both attempts to actively disrupt normative power structures, even as it provides a necessary safety for protestors by disguising their identities. In contrast, Haynes uses similarly striking optics as a way to disguise; a challenge to invite a more active viewership.

Finally, in Maiden Voyage and new commission, Gentle Loud, Fraser plays with the masked and absent figure – refusing the gaze completely to privilege the personal and intimate over surface assumptions.

By taking control of the visual constitution of identity – in all these different manners and strategies – RAZZLE DAZZLE begins to undo the invisibility and hypervisibility that many of us feel subjected to.