Paper Tigers

‘Paper Tigers: Posters From Sydney’s Long 70s’ is a celebration of Sydney’s dynamic poster art and public protest movements from the late 1960s to early ‘80s, presented at The National Art School in conjunction with ‘Sedition: a festival of art, music and pictures’.

Including more than 200 posters, album covers and ephemera sourced from private and state collections and the National Art School archive, ‘Paper Tigers’ re-engages with Sydney’s ‘70s counter culture by focusing on the creative hub of Darlinghurst and its influence on music, art, theatre and politics. Curator Toby Creswell comments, ‘It was in Darlinghurst – out of the sight and mind of mainstream Australia – that a group of larrikins, mavericks, ratbags, poets, painters and musicians created a new vernacular.’

Artists in this group include Martin Sharp, Marie McMahon, Chris O’Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa), Paul Worstead and Garry Shead, all of whom began their careers creating music, film, theatre and festival posters, magazine covers, album artwork and protest art during a fertile time of cultural awakening and political unrest. But ‘Paper Tigers’ is no exercise in nostalgia, explains co-curator Lesa-Belle Furhagen: ‘We want to take up the issues that were top of mind then that are still relevant today; the whole #metoo thing, where feminism is, issues around domestic violence, a woman’s right to choose – these are still very front and centre.’ Creswell adds, ‘The 70’s protest art also had a strong anti-war theme. These things have not gone away, so it’s a not-so-distant mirror to what’s happening now.’

Furhagen and Creswell are the founders of the inaugural Sedition festival, which aims to connect art and politics and highlight social issues still being fought today. Furhagen explains how Sydney ‘tends not to honour its past. But at that moment in time, that upheaval produced some incredible works, not just visual art but in music, theatre and film. The Sedition festival more broadly is an acknowledgement of the intersection of all those different cultural mediums at that time.’

Many of the works in ‘Paper Tigers’ were sourced from the artists themselves, giving the exhibition a unique and personal perspective. There are works that haven’t been exhibited publicly before, held onto for years by the artist or kept in the National Art School archive, including fanzines by Paul Worstead.

The distinct visual language of Sydney is permeated throughout the works in the exhibition, a style that is ‘pretty hard-edged with a black humour when you look at the people who have come out of here. It’s not very whimsical, it’s very tough-minded and lean’, explains Creswell. The exhibition focuses on Darlinghurst and surrounds, from outrageous art school balls and the birth of the Nimrod theatre, to the early gay clubs of Oxford St and the legendary Oxford Hotel residency of punk rock pioneers Radio Birdman. This vibrant counter-culture parallels today’s resurgence of feminist and queer activism and frustration with politics in general. Furhagen points this out, ‘You look at the climate change rallies and the lock out rallies, there is still agitation out there, people still want to be heard. I don’t think we all have to accept that social media echo chamber, we still have a voice and in some ways we live in incredibly revolutionary times. If there was ever a time to arc up, I think it’s now.’

Paper Tigers: Posters From Sydney’s Long 70s
30 August – 12 October 2019
National Art School, Sydney


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