At one point or another in our lives we all require forgiveness; just as there will also be times when we need to forgive others. Both can be fraught with difficulty. For the 19th Biennale of Sydney: You Imagine What You Desire, Bindi Cole will exhibit a new multi-channel, video installation titled We All Need Forgiveness (2014) at the Art Gallery of NSW. Here, a wall of monitors shows a collection of people repeating the mantra ‘I forgive you’, creating a symphony of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is usually specific; it is deeply personal and clearly directed. In this case, we don’t know who is being forgiven or why. An apology prompts forgiveness, and in one respect Cole can be seen to be responding to the National Apology of 2008, a significantly poignant event which was directed at the Indigenous Australian children who were forcibly removed from their families, by official government policy, from 1909 to 1969. The tension that surrounds the historical discourse of the Stolen Generation is endemic and, six years on, little more seems to have occurred in the aftermath of this symbolic act. Cole shares Aboriginal and British heritage and belongs to the Wadawurrung people of Victoria, so this historical milestone is close to home for the artist. Cole’s interest in intergenerational trauma became the primary source for the work. The artist believes that forgiveness is essential for re-empowerment, and its remedial effects drove her to think about the possibility of a mass healing, creating an antidote in We All Need Forgiveness.
Although she primarily concentrates on photography, Cole’s practice also embraces painting, collage, text, video, performance, soundscapes and projections of works that are often deeply personal and cathartic in nature. When the artist was 16, her mother passed away, and the tragedy of her death set Cole on a path of self-destruction – in her early twenties she spent two years in prison for drug dealing. Two important things happened at this pivotal moment in her life: she found her faith, and she reconciled with who she really was – a passionate and creative artist. Few people knew about Cole’s time in prison, and the shame of her incarceration affected her deeply. EH5452 (2011) is a video work of the artist reading from the diary she kept in prison, detailing the belief in God that she nurtured while behind bars.
Whitewash (2010) is a metaphor for glossing over or covering up. This was the title of Cole’s video installation and soundscape that was projected on to the water-wall of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, as part of Reconciliation Week 2010. Made in collaboration with Ben Graetz, and using the voices of participants from Geelong High School and Kunrunjang Secondary College, the work explored Aboriginal stereotypes and their ramifications, the effect of government legislation such as the White Australia policy, and the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal communities.
Cole graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ballarat University and has since been the subject of solo exhibitions including ‘On The Edge Of The Unknown’, Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne (2013); ‘Sistagirls’, 24Hour Art, Darwin, Perth Centre for Photography, and Brisbane Powerhouse (2011); ‘Whitewash’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2010); and ‘Not Really Aboriginal’, Next Wave Festival at Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne (2008). Her work has also been included in several group shows, among them ‘My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia’, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2013); ‘Taboo’, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2012–13); ‘Saying No: Reconciling Spirituality and Resistance in Indigenous Australian Art’, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, New York (2011); ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, Melbourne (2009); and ‘Big Blak Heart’, The Substation, Melbourne, and University of Tsukuba Art Space (2009). In 2009, Cole won the Deadly Art Award at the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards.