“I’m an activist masquerading as an artist,” Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman, and Gurang Gurang man Richard Bell likes to say, which is an attitude I respect. Bell, whose work was recently the subject of a massive career retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, likes to push buttons. His art and his attitude have attracted all the usual appellations over the course of the last 50 years: provocative, confrontational, iconoclastic, angry. He accepts this. Hell, as we see in After the Apology director Larissa Behrendt’s new documentary, You Can Go Now (the MCA exhibition sported the same title), he welcomes it.
Behrendt’s film traces the entire arc of Bell’s life and career, from his childhood in outback Queensland, where the demolition of his family home by white authorities proved to be a keystone formative experience—that it took place a mere eight months after the Indigenous Constitution Recognition Referendum of 1967 Bell notes with bitter irony.