Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bronwyn Barwell's opening address, 17 November 2012, Merchants of War: Tribute to Michael Callaghan

Thank you all for coming to Merchants of War. Especially thanks to the contributing artists and Damien Minton who has been pivotal to this show.

The focus of the exhibition is on the international corporations and middlemen – private and government, who foster and profit from the international trade in arms – from light weapons such as the iconic AK47 through to the new wave of technology driven weapons epitomised by the Drone.

These men and women in grey suits with neat suburban lives far removed from their victims are real perpetrators of war and the natural opponents of negotiated settlement.

War is fuelled by global economic imperatives. Countries far removed from the zone of conflict are profiting every minute of every day from the arms trade. Their victims grow exponentially.

Their blood money powers the growth of first world companies and economies.

This exhibition was borne from a commitment to community in the widest sense and fuelled by the anger at the sheer wrongness of a world where negotiated settlement is held to ransom by the merchants of war and frustration at the duplicity and inertia of our political leaders to come to the table on an Arms Trade Treaty.

Merchants of War is also about the more intimate community we inhabit as friends and colleagues who have come together to both pay tribute to Michael and his artistic and political legacy and in solidarity, to continue the tradition of politicised art practise.

This was to be Michael’s last exhibition – he had a number of works in progress. The night before he died, he said he didn’t know if he had enough strength to get the work done. My reply was all we can do is try and thanks to you all we have succeeded.

Michael’s practise was collective in nature.

The AK47 sculpture could not have been realised without:

         Greg McLachlan’s fine computer rendering in dissecting the connecting layers, OR
         Greg Page’s considerable carpentry skills in assembling the gun.
As Greg McLachlan commented, Michael always surrounded himself with artisans – the AK47 is as much a product of their skills as of Michael’s vision.

This exhibition in its entirety is testament to the power of collective practise.

On Michael’s behalf thank you and congratulations on a fine body of work.

Michael’s website is to be relaunched with the poster archive available for sale and viewing through the site. The profits from the sale and from this exhibition received by the estate will be held in a trust in Michael’s name and over time will hopefully, in a modest way, fund a travelling art scholarship amongst other things.