Five months ago, in early November 2017, Dan and Verity said “I do”. They tied the knot on the weekend just prior to the mammoth announcement of the plebiscite on marriage equality in Australia. The ceremony and reception took place in a picturesque paddock at the foot of Mount Victoria, in the Blue Mountains, N.S.W. Dan and Verity specifically asked their guests to dress in a single colour of their choice. Their intention was to stage a group photograph of themselves with all their guests, positioned loosely in the colours of the rainbow.
My shot is not only a document affirming this joyful event at which Dan and Verity were free to commit their love and support for each other in front of their friends and family, it is also an expression of Dan and Vertiy’s solidarity with their LGBTQI brothers and sisters on the issue of marriage equality. This group portrait even heralds an early celebration of the positive outcome that everyone was hoping for.
I entered this photo in the 2018 Moran Contemporary Photography Prize, since for me, it follows the Moran’s mandate for images that interpret the changing reality of life in Australia today.
The Museum of Love & Protest was an inter-active exhibition at the National Art School (NAS) in Sydney in February/March, looking back across four decades of the history of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. It featured original costumes, photographs, iconic posters, rarely-seen video footage, story-telling, music and artefacts. This large scale group show celebrated love, protest, diversity, humour, pride and creativity.
The exhibition included my photographs commissioned by Mardi Gras for the 2012 and 2013 official Mardi Gras posters (MARDIGRASLAND and GENERATIONS OF LOVE), and also my grinning portrait of cheesey performer Bob Downe, attached to one of his infamous cabaret safari-suit costumes.
Spot the Arab opened at Backspace Gallery, Ballarat on March 1, 2018 (see images below) through March 18.
Local artists, photographers, arts administrators, friends and family of the artist, journalists, and the general public from Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Melbourne and beyond were in attendance for the opening of “Spot the Arab” on the walls of this art space (housed in a heritage-protected, former police station), funded and supported by the City of Ballarat.
Deborah Klein (Arts and Culture Co-ordinator), Cash Brown (Curator and Conservator at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka) and Jonathan Turner (exhibition co-curator, Rome), opened the exhibition.
In particular, the “Selfie Stand” was a huge success. This is a portable photo-booth which has been set up, where visitors to my exhibition can use their mobile phones to take a self-portrait wearing Arab head dress or costume provided, standing in front of desert landscape backdrops I photographed in Israel and Palestine.
Visitor summary – Spot the Arab, Ballarat
An estimated 3,000 people visited the exhibition inside the Backspace Gallery. Many more people saw the exterior images pasted on the Backspace building and in the square (20,000 people passed by the gallery building on the Saturday of the White Night Festival)
SOCIAL MEDIA SUMMARY
A total of 20,000 people were reached through Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
3,507 people visited the separate Spot the Arab page on Facebook
John McRae’s personal photography page was visited by a further 3,393 people
6,585 people saw Spot the Arab posts via twitter
5,750 people saw Spot the Arab posts via Instagram (with 965 likes)
There were a further 1,000 likes via other media, and 125 direct comments
The Selfie Stand
From at least 400 people who dressed in the Arab costumes provided and took selfies at the exhibition, 33 people posted their portraits on social media.
I am currently visiting the lovely state of Victoria, for my current exhibition called “Spot the Arab” (see further down, earlier blog entry) at Backspace Gallery, Ballarat.
My hosts thought I should experience diverse local culture on the weekend by visiting Daylesford, a small town north-east of Ballarat. I did! The following images are a collection of shots I took on Sunday morning, during the Chill Out Festival Parade down the main street of Daylesford.
The Chill Out Festival takes place over the Labour Day long weekend. The festival attracts 25,000 visitors with an estimated economic benefit of around $10 million. When the Springs Connection – a group of lesbian and gay business people in the regional town of Daylesford, Victoria – first got together to plan a local LGBTQI festival in 1997, they had no idea just how successful it would become. Celebrating its 21st birthday this year, it’s not only the largest annual celebration in Hepburn Shire, but also the biggest queer country pride event in Australia.
Link to pod-cast with John McRae about his Spot the Arab portrait project and exhibition in Ballarat. Interview by artist and communications officer Rebecca Wilson, as part of her Western Connections programme.
Interview conducted in Sydney: February 12, 2018. 25 minutes.
John McRae will exhibit his latest body of work Spot the Arab for the first time in Australia. Images from McRae’s Spot the Arab series were shown in June 2017 in Rome, at the cutting-edge Italian gallery Il Ponte Contemporanea.This exhibition took place in the centre of the “Eternal City”, close to the Vatican, in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto.
Name: Spot the Arab – John McRae
Venue:Backspace Gallery, Ballarat, Australia
Dates:Exhibition runs from March 1-18 , 2018
Opening Thursday March 1, from 6pm – 8pm
Backspace Gallery hours: Thursday – Sunday, 12 – 4pm, The artist will be present for the duration of the exhibition.
The closing weekend of the exhibition will coincide with Harmony Fest (March 17-26), White Night Ballarat (Saturday March 17,from 4pm to 2 am) and Ballarat Cultural Diversity Week (March 14 – 25).
Note: the Backspace Gallery will remain open from 4pm to 2am on March 17, as part of White Night Ballarat.
Address: Huyghue House,
Alfred Deakin Place (Camp Street) Ballarat
Owned and operated by the City of Ballarat Arts and Cultural Development team
The City of Ballarat respectfully acknowledges the Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung people– traditional custodians of the land.
Spot the Arab challenges the viewer to identify who among the line-up identifies as Arab.I query if this is such a relevant question in the first place.How complicated life becomes when such things are treated as important.…maybe it’s more interesting to just experience the actual person in front of you, no matter how they are “dressed”, and to leave it at that.
Spot the Arab is a project based on portraiture, as a summary of various themes, ideas and concepts aligned to how I reflect upon contemporary issues of religion, race, gender, orientation, nationality and freedom. I present this work in a game-like yet very serious manner. It is a topical celebration of diversity, with a powerful message about tolerance.
Following 9/11 we have seen a growth in the stigma surrounding the idea of Arab/Muslim/Middle-Eastern, driven by incessant, hounding imagery of the “terrorist”. I resent this repeated, visual conditioning, which occurs every time you turn on the television or open a newspaper. It is easy to make fake computations and lose your ability to comprehend the subtleties and differences…so that you may no longer see the actual person standing in front of you.How often does this occurs in all areas of our society?How often do we close down communication as a result?I decided to take this particular stereotype and use it to draw attention to the insanity of discrimination.
This show has been built around a photo installation, a retrospective of my portraits since 2002 on the theme of the illusions and stereotypes of what is an Arab today.It looks at a selection of people I have photographed over the past decade in numerous countries and from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.In most cases I have imposed Middle-Eastern clothing onto my subjects (who may otherwise wear jeans and a t-shirt) and have asked them to enact the role of what they consider an Arab might be. The sitters include men, women and transgender people in the “guise” of Arabs and dressed accordingly.Spot the Arab focuses on social fictions of femininity/masculinity, recurring themes in my work.
At the end of the portrait session I asked each subject to exactly describe how they identify, since in this way, we can over-ride the preconceptions of imposed racism and prejudice….and whether they identify as “Arab” in any way. This gives additional weight to the complexity of each portrait.
For example, Ali, a Lebanese-Australian national raised in Paris but who is currently based in London, has frequently posed for me over the past decades. He provides a sharp description of how he defines his own identity.
“My ethnicity is Arab, I see myself as Semitic too. I also have Persian lineage,” Ali explains. “Gender is very fluid in the male body that I adore, so I project the idea of Macho Male. My religion: Agnostic, Neo-pagan, Baphomet Worshipper, Hermetic Qabalist, Neo-Platonic, Sacred Whore (I go as ‘London Arab Master’ these days). I love Shia-Islam too.”
I tend to create works in series, often spanning different continents and time-lines. This introduces a multi-faceted and shifting perspective, never a single cultural viewpoint.My specific fascination is to use my camera to break down stereotypes and visual codes, more important today than ever.In my portraits, I try to capture sly or hidden messages, and then juxtapose these with more blatant aspects of drama, styling and emotion, whether it is authentic or staged.It is always about intimacy versus theatricality.
John McRae, 2017
Spot the Arab with be running with a number of community based events which are taking place in Ballarat concurrently:
– White Night Ballarat (Saturday March 17,from 4pm to 2 am)
– Harmony Fest (March 17-26)
– Cultural Diversity Week (March 14 – 25).
Spot the Arab will challenge the viewer to identify who of the various models, dressed in Middle Eastern costume, actually identify as Arab. Viewers will also be invited to participate in the SELFIE STAND, an area in the gallery reserved for those who wish to take a selfie dressed in the Middle Eastern clothing (provided) in front of an Arabian backdrop. The viewer is then encouraged to post this image on social media with the hashtag #spotthearab. Once posted, the artist will print the resulting images and then adhere them to a wall of the Backspace Gallery, so that the visitors can become part of the exhibition.
For further information about the exhibition go to:
I had the pleasure of photographing production shots for the “Off Broadway” sensation, “The Room Upstairs”.
I would certainly recommend treating yourself to a night of pure entertainment and head to the Hayes Theatre….details below.
Music, Book and Lyrics by Max Vernon
PERFORMANCE AND BOOKING DETAILS
Presented by Invisible Wall Productions and Sugary Rum productions in association with Hayes Theatre Co
Directed by Shaun Rennie
Musical Direction by Nicholas Griffin
Choreography by Cameron Mitchell
Set Design by Isabel Hudson
Costume Design by Anita Yavich
Lighting Design by Trent Suidgeest
Sound Design by Neil McLean
Australian PremiereCast includes Henry Brett, Thomas Campbell, Nick Errol, Ryan Gonzalez, Martelle Hammer, Anthony Harkin, David Hooley, Markesha McCoy, Madison McKoy and Stephen Madsen
The View Upstairs pulls you inside the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant 70s gay bar in New Orleans. The forgotten bar regulars come to life when a young fashion designer from 2017 buys the now abandoned space and is transported back in time. He gets to know the joys and struggles of this community and in turn learns about his place in the world.
From the opening piano chords of this Off-Broadway sensation, the five-piece band and cast of ten blast into the glam rock world of the 1970s. In our ever-changing world, this show looks at the then and now to explore our ideas of love, regret, defiance and resilience. The music will give you goosebumps, the story will make you both laugh and cry. See why Ru Paul said the show was “FABULOUS! It was fantastic.”
Every year I photograph Matthew Mitcham, Australia’s gold-medal Olympic diver, award-winning cabaret performer and television entertainer, in my studio.
Each portrait is taken under similar conditions. In a sense these portraits are snapshots of the relationship between photographer and artist’s muse and they continue to track the development of this young man.
MMXVII marks the 10th portrait and the 10th year of this ongoing series. That’s a decade!