NAVA defends Vincent Namatjira's artistic freedom amid demands for removal from NGA

Media Release

The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) stands firmly behind the artistic freedom of leading Western Aranda artist Vincent Namatjira OAM amidst demands for the withdrawal of his work from a major survey exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

‘Freedom of Expression is a universal human right highly valued by artists,’ said NAVA Executive Director Penelope Benton. ‘NAVA asserts that artists, as historians, commentators, and critics of society, should be free to create art about any subject and by any means, provided it is within the law.’

Namatjira's work exemplifies this freedom, offering a critical exploration of Australia's complex colonial history and its ties to the British Empire through subversive wit and caricature. His series of caricatures, including one featuring Gina Rinehart, provides a pointed critique of power dynamics in our society.

‘Artistic expression is a fundamental aspect of Australian cultural life and it must include the freedom to exhibit, perform or distribute works that may be unpopular, shocking, or disturbing,’ Benton continued.

'While Rinehart has the right to express her opinions about Namatjira’s work, NAVA emphasises that exerting pressure on the gallery for removal of the painting simply because she dislikes it, sets a dangerous precedent for censorship and the stifling of creative expression.’

NAVA stands in unwavering support of the NGA and its commitment to fostering an environment where artists can present their work without undue interference.

‘We believe that the diversity of artistic expression should be protected and celebrated, ensuring that all artists can continue to offer their unique and critical perspectives on our society,’ Benton concluded.

NAVA strongly advocates for artistic freedom, opposing censorship that limits this right within legal boundaries. Artists must not face unreasonable constraints on their freedom of expression.

Image credit

Vincent Namatjira 
Australia in Colour 2021
synthetic polymer paint on linen
overall 237.5 (h) x 379.5 (w) x 6.0 (d) cm
unframed 76.0 (h) x 51.0 (w) x 3.5 (d) cm
framed (overall) 79.1 (h) x 54.1 (w) x 6.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased in celebration of the National Gallery of Australia's 40th anniversary, 2022
 © Vincent Namatjira/Copyright Agency

ID: Installation of 21 portrait paintings by Vincent Namatjira on black backgrounds across three rows. The subjects of the portraits range from well-known Australian musicians and sportspeople to royalty, politicians, and Namatjira’s family. 

About the exhibition

The first survey exhibition of acclaimed Western Aranda artist Vincent Namatjira, Vincent Namatjira: Australia in colour, charts the artist’s career, revealing the power of his painting and the potency of his words.

Renowned for producing paintings laden with dry wit, Namatjira has established himself in the past decade as a celebrated portraitist and a satirical chronicler of Australian identity. His paintings offer a wry look at the politics of history, power and leadership from a contemporary Aboriginal perspective.

Showcasing Namatjira’s burgeoning artistic practice, this major exhibition brings together paintings, works on paper and moving image from public and private collections nationwide. The exhibition also features a selection of watercolours from the national collection by the artist's great-grandfather and critically acclaimed Western Aranda artist, Albert Namatjira.

Vincent Namatjira: Australia in colour is a Tarnanthi touring exhibition presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia. Supported by Tarnanthi Principal Partner BHP and the Government of South Australia.

NAVA defends Vincent Namatjira's artistic freedom amid demands for removal from NGA