In these intimate intergenerational portraits, Naomi Hobson shares an affectionate representation of Kaantju and Umpila boys, men and elders from her community. Adorned in vibrant flowers found in their hometown of Coen in far north Queensland, these ‘warriors without a weapon’ share the cultural practice of decorating their beards in preparation of ceremony and to reclaim authorship over how they are represented in the public domain.
Studio portraits of Indigenous peoples have historically been taken by non-Indigenous photographers; however, in this emotive series, the direction of their gaze subtly reflects Hobson’s kinship lines between herself and the subjects.
RELATED: Indigenous Australian art
The photographic series A Warrior without a Weapon 2018 aims to break negative stereotypical representations of Australian Indigenous men in the public domain by affirming that that they too can be sensitive and caring.1
Inviting the sitters to her home, it was important for Hobson to first engage in conversation with the men about their representation. This important step of consultation and self-determination for the men, one that Hobson has witnessed as absent in the majority of media portrayals and historic records of Aboriginal men, is the defining feature of the series. The trust and care that was taken during this process is written on the stern, inquisitive and, at times, vulnerable faces, many of whom maintain eye contact with the lens or are turned to gaze in contemplation. Hobson reflects:
Each photograph required a discussion about the concept and the narrative: of being portrayed to demonstrate a loving side of indigenous men. Being a member of the Coen community, and being known as an artist at home, whenever I develop a body of work, there is always an enthusiasm from people to be involved. There is a human trust in my messaging and our people have pride in themselves and what they stand for.2
RELATED: QAGOMA’s vision for reconciliation
Hobson’s relationships with the subjects are subtlety hinted to as well; she states
the photo positions I have chosen reflect my relationship with the subject along kinship lines.3
Each on a field of black or white, the men and their adornments glow. Flowers local to the Coen area are carefully positioned in the men’s facial hair signalling prosperity, life and beauty. While these floral arrangements show a nurturing side, they are also a clear reference of cultural identity. Adorning a beard with flowers is an acknowledgement of a ‘cult hero’, who is known among the locals of Coen, amplifying the narrative of a warrior without a weapon.
Political, social and community engagement is a longstanding aspect of Hobson’s practice which she views as a continuation of her family tradition.
Katina Davidson is Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA
1 Naomi Hobson artist statement, emailed to Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, 16 August 2018
2/3 Email correspondence from the artist to Assistant Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, 5 February 2019
Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.