Featured Artists: Dignidad Rebelde

Unsettling America

Occasionally, Unsettling America will select and showcase featured artists for their contributions to the discourse of decolonization. Today’s featured artists are Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes of Dignidad Rebelde:

Dignidad Rebelde is a graphic arts collaboration between Oakland-based artist-activists Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes.  We believe that art can be an empowering reflection of community struggles, dreams and visions.  Following principles of Xicanisma and Zapatismo, we create work that translates people’s stories into art that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspire it.

We recognize that the history of the majority of people worldwide is a history of colonialism, genocide, and exploitation.  Our art is grounded in Third World and indigenous movements that build people’s power to transform the conditions of fragmentation, displacement and loss of culture that result from this history.  Representing these movements through visual art means connecting struggles through our work…

View original post 103 more words


Lonnie Holley

Idk why this dumb embed isn’t working but can you please watch Holley’s video All Round the Bend it’s so nice, it captures in the song his belief in divine intervention to create his artwork and that his artwork’s direction really comes from within.


Lonnie Holley “Power of a Mother,” Credit Gillian Laub for The New York Times.png
Power of a Mother photographed in the artists Atlanta home by Gillian Gaub for NY Times

Holley is a man of many myths and talents. Born in Jim Crow-era Birmingham, Alabama, as the seventh of 27 children, Holley traveled across the South and held a wide array of jobs before making his first artwork at the age of 29.

Well known for his assemblages, Holley incorporates natural and man-made objects into totemic sculptures. Materials such as steel scrap, sandstone, plastic flowers, crosses, and defunct machines commemorate places, people, and events. The exhibition will feature a selection of sculptures and drawings on loan from the artist. In addition to these works, Holley will create site specific installations reflective of the spontaneous and improvisational nature of his creative process.

at Atlanta Contemporary

at Atlanta Contemporary 2

at Atlanta Contemporary 3

Text and following images from Atlanta Contemporary for a solo exhibition titled “I Snuck Off the Slave Ship” at Atlanta Contemporary

Thornton Dial

Mr. Dial Has Something to Say, 2007

from Celia Carey on Vimeo.

Thornton Dial was born on a cotton plantation and did steel work, never learning to read or write – and was a self-taught artist. Discovered by Lonnie Holley, he was later approached by Bill Arnett who bought Dial’s work into the white world of art. Controversy that tarnished the two men’s reputations provides insight into the life of black artists and ‘outsider’ art through the eyes of white art institutions. The positive return of the story becomes that the black artist is given legitimacy and been accepted, their art being taken in by the institutions that had initially devalued them.


Gordon Bennett

Gordon Bennett quote 1

Born in 1955 in Monto, Queensland, Gordon Bennett lived and worked in Brisbane before his unexpected death in 2014. His bold and humane art challenged racial stereotypes and provoked critical reflection on Australia’s official history and national identity. Bennett was one of Australia’s most significant and critically engaged contemporary artists, addressing issues relating to the role of language and systems of thought in forging identity. He rejected racial stereotypes and freed himself from being categorised as an Indigenous artist by creating an ongoing pop art inspired alter ego, John Citizen, who he considered to be ‘an abstraction of the Australian Mr Average, the Australian Everyman’. In the late 1990s Bennett began a dialogue with the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a New York artist who shared with Bennett a similar western cultural tradition and an obsession with drawing, semiotics and visual language.

Untitled (dismay, displace, disperse, dispirit, display, dismiss) 1989
Untitled (dismay, displace, disperse, dispirit, display, dismiss)  1989

Bennett has combined six key scenes in the process of colonisation – the arrival of the fleet, the raising of the Union Jack, the murder, imprisonment and demoralising of Aboriginal people – with stencilled words that stamp the brutality of that process. Using a palette that successively darkens from white to black, he tracks the dismay of Aboriginal people at the invasion of their land to their dismissal as inhabitants of it, using the visual and verbal language of oppression that was integral to the colonising process. To ‘dis’ something in English means not only to disrespect; when used as a prefix it reverses and undoes the meaning of the root word, and can thus ‘refer to negation, opposition, separation, or deprivation’. The repetition of ‘dis’ in each word in Untitled (dismay, displace, disperse, dispirit, display, dismiss) sets up a rhythm; a beat which marches in grim lockstep with each image to its termination in the empty black square of ‘dismiss’.

Gordon Bennett quote

Angels 1993. Soft ground etching
Angels 1993, soft ground etching

Gordon Bennett’s art tackles and confronts the complex histories of European colonisation and the narratives of Western art history. His suite of soft ground etchings directly reference the early twentieth-century Russian artist Kasimir Malevich’s painting Black Square of 1915; and the French artist Yves Klein’s passion for the colour ultramarine blue. Historically, Malevich’s painting is considered ground zero; the complete erasure of representation to create a space of feeling and perception. In a related way, Klein’s obsession with ultramarine was an attempt to capture the boundless transcendence of the void, the skies and infinity. Depicting diving boards, angels and black squares Bennett’s etchings reference these utopian ideals, questioning whether it is possible to leap into these so-called essences of Western art history after more than 200 years of dispossession.

All text and images sourced from the MCA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

Possession Island (Abstraction) 1991
Possession Island (Abstraction) 1991

Image source Tate Modern from article Five things to know: Gordon Bennett

Myth of the Western man (White man's burden) 1992
Myth of the Western Man (White man’s burden) 1992

On the blue-blocked sections are dates, the following information was provided by the artist:


1788 Colony established. Flag raised.

1796 First legally sanctioned massacre of Aboriginal people – Hawkesbury River area – troops sent from Parramatta.

1799 – First murder trial of five whites for the murder of two Aboriginal boys – found guilty but released – pardoned three years later.

1802 – Pemulwuy killed and decapitated, his head sent to England.

1803 – First colony established in Tasmania

1804 – First massacre of Aboriginal people in Tasmania, at Risdon Cove.

1813 – Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson cross the Blue Mountains into Wiradjuri land.

1824 – Massacres of Wiradjuri people.

1838 – Myall Creek massacre in northern New South Wales. First white man hung – against public opinion and in a retrial after acquitted in first trial – for the murder of Aboriginal people. This creates a climate of secrecy around further murders.

1857 – Yeeman people (near Roma, Queensland) massacred.

1861 – Largest massacre of whites by Aboriginal people in reprisal for hundreds of Aboriginal deaths, at Cullin-la-Ringo Station, Queensland by the Kairi people.

1869 – Tasmania, William Lanney – touted as the last Aboriginal male – died. His grave is looted and skeleton stolen.

1876 – Tasmania, Truganini – touted as the last Aboriginal female – died. Her skeleton is put on display (against her last wishes) in the Tasmanian Museum.

1928 – Coniston massacre in the Northern Territory, near Yuendumu. Those responsible vindicated in an official (cover up) inquiry ending 7 February 1929.

1971 – Yirrkala, Gove Peninsula, land rights thrown out of court.

1972 – Aboriginal Tent Embassy set up in Canberra. Gough Whitlam elected and Blue Poles by Jackson Pollack purchased for Australia (public outraged).

1976 – Truganini’s bones cremated and her ashes dispersed in the wind.

1992 – Mabo case is won – Terra Nullius overturned.

Information provided by the artist

Untitled (reference to Colin McCahon's 'Valley of the dry bones') 1988
Untitled (reference to Colin McCahon’s ‘Valley of the dry bones’) 1988
Notes to Basquiat (in the future art will not be boring)
Notes to Basquiat (in the future art will not be boring) 1999

Gordon Bennett’s paintings in the late 1980s and early 90s were informed by theories about appropriation – the borrowing of images from other artists and visual sources – and by post-colonial theories about identity and history. Appropriation allowed Bennett to refer to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal art, and situate his painting in a fluid area between these two overlapping forms of contemporary art.

Images and information sourced from Art Gallery of NSW

Triptych Requiem, Of Grandeur, Empire 1989
Triptych: Requiem, Of Grandeur, Empire 1989
If Banjo Paterson was black 1995
If Banjo Patternson was Black, 1995

Image sourced from QAGOMA, Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art

Further reading: Article written by Richard Bell for the Guardian

Robel Temesgen

Is an Ethiopian artist whose work visually represents the belief of Adbar which refers to the embodiment of protective spirits in the natural landscape. Dessie, north-east Ethiopia is where the artist is from, where Adbar is commonly practiced.

Temesgen works in a symbolic style and typically on a large scale especially in the Adbar collection, with large scrolls being suspended from the ceiling and partially rolled onto the floor recalling Ethiopian healing scrolls.

The artist received his BFA from Addis Ababa and then a MFA in Norway

The first works I saw when I was cruising around on the interweb were works on paper that featured the Surrealist technique decalcomania which I had only previously seen done by English Surrealist artist Ithell Colquhoun.

From the Eye is on the Eye of the Beholder series
Source Africanah.org

Robel Temesgen. Adbar I, 2015. Mixed media on paper,
Adbar I
Robel Temesgen. Adbar V, 2015. Mixed media on paper
Adbar V
Adbar VII, 2015
Adbar VII 2015
Untitled 2017
Untitled 2017
Untitled 2017 RT
Untitled 2017

Image source Artsy

Oh my god, so much of his work in 2016/2017 is so great, a lot with the decalcomania and various pen work; materials e.g. Acrylic, nail paint, enamel paint, ink pen, permanent marker and sticker, stamp, etc

Juan Davila

Davila’s work I have loved, very confronting, satirical imagery combined with an expressive use of colour while involving comic-strip seperation and masterful figurative depictions leaves me with no further desires.

Stepping from the politics of art to political art is easy for Juan Davila. Arriving in Australia in the wake of the Pinochet coup in Chile, he brought a Latin American understanding of the post-colonial and the fragility of independence in the face of superpower politics. (1)

The Moral Meaning of Wilderness at Monash Univeristy of Modern Art (MUMA)

“The ‘Moral Meaning of Wilderness’ exhibition is a tour of the various approaches to the landscape: ‘plein air’ painting, studio landscape work, sublime landscape, historical evocation of landscape, modernity and the landscape, natural disaster, childhood memory of a landscape, woman in the wilderness. The ‘After Image’ works seem to refer to fantasies, inner space, unnameable objects, microcosm and immense space. Within the representation of “the land” one easily forgets that we are dealing with complexity and a field of projections. The political, the sublime, the moral stance, corporate destruction and the future of our environment come to mind.”

– Juan Davila

Wilderness juan Davila 2010
Wilderness 2010
A man is born without fear 2010 j.d
A Man is Born Without Fear 2010
after image, a man is born without fear 2010 j.d
After Image, A Man is Born Without Fear 2010

“The after-image is a momentary body-memory – not intellectual but bizarrely willed – perhaps a bit like the recollection of a dream or the instant slip that uncannily reveals the unconscious. In monumentalising this trace, Davila delivers us to another ethereal zone: the breath of libido, buffeted by clouds of repression and misty internalised myths. As portraits of evanescent memory, they are wantonly memorable.” (2)

The Studio 1984
The Studio 1984
1988 Pre-Modern Self-Portrait
Pre-Modern Self-Portrait 1988
Bretonism 1989
Bretonism 1989
Commission for the Future 1989
Commission for the Future 1989
indigenous angel qith matisse background 1993
Indigenous Angel with Matisse Background 1993
Carmen Gollardo 2005
Carmen Gollardo 2005

While his paintings have often fractured images into multiple parts, Davila’s work has also consistently drawn upon figurative traditions, from portraiture to narrative tableaux. His subjects are often people of ambiguous gender, mixed race or marginal social status, questioning public attitudes to identity and sexuality. Davila’s more recent series focusing on the treatment of refugees continued this approach, using the human figure to explore the psychology of current events and situations. These works, along with Davila’s recent portraits and studio paintings, also represented a major stylistic shift over the previous decade, while maintaining the artist’s commitment to a socially engaged art. Working in a mode reminiscent of 19th French salon painting, Davila rejected the cool detachment of modernism and postmodernism, infusing his figures with a sense of beauty, intimacy and emotion. (3)

  1. Shane Carmody writes Juan Davila: The Artist as Historian 
  2. Robert Nelson via Art Blart where 2010 images and quote are also sourced
  3. MCA Sydney

Other images from AASD