Reko Rennie explores his Aboriginal identity through his use of painting, stenciling, sculpture, installation and film. Although Rennie grew up in Melbourne, his heritage lies with the Kamilaroi people of northern New South Wales. The significance of this heritage was imparted to him by his grandmother Julia, with whom Rennie shared a special relationship. Julia was forcibly removed from her family during the 1920s and enslaved at a pastoral station.
In his youth, Rennie recalls a photograph of a pastoralist with his wife in their ‘Sunday best’, sitting in a luxurious Rolls-Royce car. He was struck by the injustice of his grandmother’s experience when compared to the wealth and power of the scene portrayed in the photograph. In OA_RR, Rennie uses the Rolls-Royce as a symbol with which to depict this contradiction.
Rennie has painted the Rolls-Royce with a camouflage pattern in bright and bold colours. Traditionally, camouflage conceals or disguises animals or objects by using a combination of materials and colouration to optically confuse the observer. Rennie’s use of camouflage amplifies, rather than conceals, his identity. With his unique pattern, which is layered with a traditional diamond pattern of the Kamilaroi people, he has made the Rolls-Royce his own.
In OA_RR Rennie drives his Rolls-Royce through Kamilaroi Country to a site near where his grandmother was born. Rennie drives the car onto a clearing of land to make temporary marks into the red earth. This ephemeral act of mark making references large engravings created by the Kamilaroi people for ceremonies.
- Describe what is happening in OA_RR.
- How does this video work make you feel? With a friend, share one reason why it makes you feel this way.
- Rennie learnt the significance of his Kamilaroi heritage from his grandmother, who was a very important person to Rennie growing up. Who is an important figure in your family and why?
- Rennie’s choice of a 1973 gold Rolls-Royce Corniche acts as an auto-portrait, (‘auto’ means self). What other aspects of the car tell Rennie’s story?
- In pairs, discuss the benefits of being a multidisciplinary artist. Compare Rennie’s mural in Gallery 17 at AGSAOA_CAMO to OA_RR. Which work of art is more powerful and why? Conduct a class debate on ‘Film is a more powerful art form than public art and painting’. Use works of art by Rennie as the basis for your argument.
- In OA_RR the Rolls-Royce was used as a symbol of wealth and power. Today, what symbols do you associate with wealth and power? Comparably, can you think of a universal symbol for compassion and tolerance?
- Identify three symbols used in the film that signify Rennie’s Kamilaroi heritage. TIP Research Bora Rings as a starting point.
- In OA_RR, Reko Rennie returns to Kamilaroi Country. Find Kamilaroi on the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia. Investigate the Indigenous names for places in your state.
- What shapes can you see in the pattern painted onto the car? Reko Rennie describes going back to Country as relaxing. What place do you feel most at home or relaxed?
- Rennie’s journey to Kamilaroi Country is a long one from his home in Melbourne. What long journey have you been on before? What new or interesting things did you see on your travels?
- Describe the soundtrack for OA_RR. What does it remind you of?
- In Gallery 17 at AGSA, Rennie has painted a mural using a camouflage pattern. What are the similarities and differences between this design and the pattern on the car?
- Write a film review on OA_RR. Critically analyse the film techniques used to convey meaning. eg. Angles, colour, setting, music, shot type and use of symbolism. Compare OA_RR to Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy, 1990 by Tracey Moffatt. What similarities do these films share?
- OA_RR is the telling of Australia’s colonial past through Rennie’s personal narrative. Research other artists who have explored stories about the experiences of Aboriginal people. What is their story?
- Rennie’s grandmother was forcibly removed from her family when she was only seven years old. Investigate the Stolen Generations and the impact this removal had on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Consider what the day-to-day life of Rennie’s grandmother might have been like.
- Rennie’s work addresses the dislocation and dispossession of Aboriginal people and highlights that these stories should never be forgotten. How do we currently publicly recognise or commemorate the dislocation and dispossession experienced by Aboriginal people?
- The use of camouflage is a reoccurring motif in Rennie’s work. Research other works of art by Rennie where he has used a camouflage patterning. Using these as examples, explain how Rennie challenges us to rethink our assumptions about Australian art and identity.
- Rennie’s background is in street art and he claims his public work in particular is always political. What makes his work political? Compare Rennie’s work to that of Richard Bell. Discuss their approaches to art making and politics.
- Family, history and Country are very important to Rennie. Think about someone who is important to you. Create a drawing that celebrates who that person is and what they mean to you.
- Rennie drives his car in a circular motion creating imprints in the red earth. Collect a range of objects and materials around your home or classroom. Using the objects make impressions into a bed of sand. Which object created the most interesting pattern? Document these marks by taking photographs to display in your classroom.
- In OA_RR Rennie has used the wheels of the car to make temporary marks into the red earth, which references the ephemeral sand engravings by the Kamilaroi people. As a class brainstorm a list of materials or sites that could be used to create a temporary work of art. Create a work that will only last for a short period of time.
- Camouflage is a means of hiding something or someone using a combination of materials and coloration. Most commonly we associate camouflage with military uniforms or an animal’s ability to disguise themselves from predators. Rennie’s use of camouflage amplifies, rather than conceals his identity. Create your own camouflage pattern that represents who you are. Like Rennie, select only three colours for your design.
- In OA_RR Rennie uses the Rolls-Royce as his tool for making marks into the earth. Create a tool or apparatus that will make a temporary mark into a surface.
- Create a short film about a lesser known Australian story. Consider adapting some of the filmic elements used in Rennie’s film. Collaborate with students from your music department to develop an appropriate soundtrack for your film.