un Projects is based on the unceded sovereign land and waters of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation; we pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
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A statement on the DISRUPT BURRUP HUB protest action at AGWA


January 20, 2023
Whadjuk Noongar Boodja

As an artist, I have a deep and profound respect and reverence for art. The drive to communicate the joys, tragedies and bewilderment of the human experience by creating beautiful things is core to who we are as a species.

It must be protected at all costs.
It’s what makes life worth living.
It’s what makes life worth fighting for.

Yesterday’s protest action at the Art Gallery of Western Australia may at first appear at odds with that belief, but it is in fact the embodiment of it. Woodside’s Burrup Hub development not only threatens some of the world’s oldest and most culturally significant rock art —

which, incredibly, is home to the first known image of a human
face in history

— it actively risks life on earth.

By extension, it actively risks all art.

But at no point was the artwork at the centre of this protest action
— nor any other artwork — at risk. It was no happy accident that
Frederick McCubbin’s Down On His Luck is protected behind
plexiglass; it was chosen in large part for this very reason. I believe the power of our action lies in this very illusion: in the parallels between Woodside’s actual irreparable destruction of art at Murujuga and our act of merely appearing to deface McCubbin’s piece.

There is no protective layer of glass over the rock art at Murujuga.

We are the protective layer — it is our responsibility to be as tenacious and sturdy as the plexiglass that prevented McCubbin’s painting itself from sustaining damage. That means loudly calling out both Woodside and WA’s Labor Government for their role in this project. Mark McGowan says my actions are irresponsible; I say he and his government need to take a look in the mirror.

If you are upset by what I did, I understand and respect that.

It is confronting. But that’s the point. I respectfully invite everyone to consider this for what it is: a bit of spray paint on easily replaceable plexiglass. Down On His Luck is intentionally unharmed. My actions do not remotely approximate Woodside’s irreparable damage in the Burrup, nor do they justify some of
the disgusting abuse I have received.

I hope the arts community and the broader community alike understand why Disrupt Burrup Hub took this action, and why I chose to play the role I did.

More than that, I hope you will join us

to vocally protect Murujuga’s rock art;

to demand better of our decision-makers;

and to support our campaign to protect the climate, cultural heritage and art

before it’s too late.

Joana Partyka is a ceramic artist, activist and political staffer based in Boorloo/Perth. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Ocean Science and Technology) from Edith Cowan University and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism from Curtin University and has exhibited widely around Australia.

Filed under Article Joana Partyka