The art of protest: Exhibiting Adelaide’s radical past

A new exhibition of prints and posters documents a radical and largely-overlooked movement from 1970s Adelaide which centred around progressive ideas that remain remarkably relevant today.

May 22, 2024, updated May 22, 2024
Andrew Hill, 'Management deliberately employ women', 1984, screenprint, ink on paper, 49.8 x 74.5cm (image), 56.0 x 76.0cm (sheet), collection of Flinders University Museum of Art 2880.055.

Andrew Hill, 'Management deliberately employ women', 1984, screenprint, ink on paper, 49.8 x 74.5cm (image), 56.0 x 76.0cm (sheet), collection of Flinders University Museum of Art 2880.055.

“These PAM [Progressive Art Movement] artists were very critical of American cultural imperialism,” says art historian Catherine Speck, one of the co-curators of the exhibition If you don’t fight … you lose: politics, posters and PAM.

“What’s going on with Israel now is being sustained by American imperialism. So it really shows the prescience of their thinking.”

Showing at the Flinders University Museum of Art (FUMA), If you don’t fight … lasers in on the Progressive Art Movement.

With its origins in a 1974 Flinders University course called Politics and Art, which was led by artists Brian Medlin and Ann Newmarch and inspired by Marxist Leninist thinking, PAM brought together an influential mix of students and activist artists.

“They were quite emphatic,” Speck tells InReview. “They said, ‘We are not an art club. We are a political organisation.’ But, they were going about things through art.”

While PAM had an undeniable profile during its active years and was known for regularly mounting protests at institutions like the Art Gallery of South Australia, it is less historically well-documented than contemporaneous art movements. Speck and co-curator Jude Adams – who is also an art historian – realised this when collaborating on a chapter about the 1970s for the book The Adelaide Art Scene: Becoming Contemporary 1939–2000.

“That [chapter] covered the women’s art movement, the Experimental Art Foundation and PAM, the Progressive Art Movement,” says Speck. “And, PAM was the one that we really started with nothing. It had kind of slipped through the cracks.

“We retrieved enough for that chapter… and when we were doing that, we realised there was a much bigger story to tell and a fabulous group of artists.”

Installation view: If you don’t fight … you lose: politics, posters and PAM, 2024; Flinders University Museum of Art, Adelaide. Photo courtesy FUMA

The exhibition at FUMA and the accompanying catalogue tell that story in vivid visual detail, bringing together posters and prints made by PAM artists.

In the works, the movement’s cohering ideology is evident, with plenty of the artworks reflecting the resistance to US cultural imperialism that blossomed during the Vietnam War. But there’s also evidence of PAM artists engaging with specifically local concerns.

“There was a lot of cultural unrest in the motorcar industries that were here – Chrysler and Holden,” says Speck. “Ann Newmarch and Mandy Martin actually set up silk screen making workshops in Chrysler.”

In curating the show, Speck and Adams have drawn upon the FUMA archives, but also delved into private collections to find posters and prints that have survived the intervening 50 years.

Ann Newmarch, We must risk unlearning, 1975, screenprint, ink on paper, edition 28/40, 71.2 x 55.5cm (image), 81.4 x 66.0cm (sheet), collection of FUMA 5023.

Among the materials, the pair uncovered a rich vein of feminist work that likely went uncelebrated when it was first released, but will now be spotlighted by the exhibition.

“Other radical groups, not just PAM, tended to focus on issues that weren’t so much concerned with feminism,” says Speck. “In fact, feminism was kind of put to the edge there, put to the margins.

“But within PAM, we had Pamela Harris, Ann Newmarch and Mandy Martin. And so, what we have done is to pull out their feminist work, and it’s extraordinarily strong when you see it.”

Speck locates the PAM artists within a larger historical context, describing them as part of an era-defining shift away from elitism in the art world.

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As much as their art was about the messages contained within it, the presentation of the works on simple and accessible materials like paper was an equally important part of the transformation.

“There was a shift to producing art that was cheaper, more readily produced, more accessible. And so that meant there was a shift to silk screen printing and producing posters.

“The idea was that art should be accessible in subject matter and content to ordinary Australian people rather than the cultured elite who would be going to art galleries and buying paintings in gold frames, but also that the subject matter should reflect their radical views.”

The legacy of this shift can be seen in protest art around the world – on streets and social media, pasted up on stobie poles across Adelaide, or painted on bed sheets at student encampments worldwide protesting Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

And that’s why, Speck says, it’s important to remember PAM’s work – because it is a labour that continues today.

“There’s not quite that Marxist energy… they really believed there was going to be a revolution. So the times are different. But there is still the art of protest … protest and radicality haven’t gone away. They’ve just taken different forms.”

If you don’t fight … you lose: politics, posters and PAM is showing at the Flinders University Museum of Art until July 5. The exhibition opening is Thursday, May 16, at 5pm.

More posters and prints from the exhibition:

Mandy Martin, Australian Independence, 1974 screenprint, ink on paper, 55.9 x 76.0cm, collection of Flinders University Museum of Art 5053, © the Estate of the artist.

Pamela Harris, Women (Lesbian mothers are everywhere), 1984, screenprint, ink on paper, edition 5/10, 48 x 60.9cm (image), 57.4 x 76.4cm (sheet), gift of the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, collection of Flinders University Museum of Art 2880.050.

Robert Boynes, Morals of money 1974, screenprint, ink on paper edition 2/10, 56.4 x 50.3 cm (image), 76.7 x 64.2 cm (sheet). Gift of Daniel Brine, collection of FUMA 4660.

Mandy Martin, Adelaide Railway Station 2, 1973, screenprint, ink on paper, 50.0 x 73.7cm (image) 55.9 x 75.9 cm (sheet), Ann Newmarch collection, © the Estate of the artist.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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