Darren Siwes Oz Omnium Rex et Regina, Gold Male photographic print on Kodak Endura Metallic Paper, edition of 10, 90 x 120cm Courtesy of the artist and GAGPROJECTS/Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide

Darren Siwes
Born 1968 Adelaide, South Australia

Oz Omnium Rex et Regina (Gold Male) 2008

 

Darren Siwes’ image Gold Male is part of his series Oz Omnium Rex Et Regina (King and Queen of Oz). In the series young and old, male and female Aboriginal people are painted in gold, silver and bronze and photographed in profile as the figureheads of a coin.

The coin is a symbolic object signifying exchange and also the power of representation. Siwes is drawing on a tradition of image replication and proliferation first started in the Greco Roman era when Alexander, realising the power of the image, had his profile cast on currency and dispersed throughout the empire.

The use of gold, silver and bronze coins references the hierarchy of materials leading to greater or lesser value of the coin. Siwes has used this as a visual simile for the hierarchy of individuals and peoples that has been passed down throughout time.

The gold, silver and bronze of Siwes’ coins cleverly bring to mind another classical rote, that of the Great Chain of Being. Within this classical imperialist theorem all things in the universe were given their “rightful” place in a chain of order. At the top of the pile was the emperor, king or queen. Within the human scale first came man, second women, third boy and fourth girl, white was superior to black of course as the Europeans wrote it, and so it went on all the way down to the soil we walk on.

—Ric Spencer, A Profile of Symbolic Exchange 2008

Siwes asks what if the hierarchy were different? What if the head of state were Aboriginal? While asking these questions, Siwes also calls to mind the work of the Dutch photographer Frederick Kruger working from 1877 to the 1890s who took photographs of Indigenous elders titling them as ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ queens’ despite Indigenous culture not having an aristocratic class.

Siwes seems to suggest that should a future ruler of Australia be Aboriginal, they will not become whitefellas but keep faith with their own culture, which predates even the most ancient dynasty in any Western society.

—Gael Newton, art theorist