The idiosyncratic practice of Newell Harry, Australian-born artist of South African and Mauritian descent, often draws from his own mixed ancestry and references the cultural agitation brought about by colonial migration and the associated complexity of identity, nomadism, diaspora and myths. His work is heavily reliant on the vernacular of words, phrases, and textures of these distinct places.
Harry’s imposing and bold banners play with the mixing of creole and pidgin languages and heritages in the Pacific with piercing irony. Each printed on hand-beaten Tongan Ngatu, a traditional bark cloth referred to as tapa in Tahitian, which has for centuries been widely used for formal ceremonial and trade purposes throughout Oceania. The cloths are passed down from one generation to the next, and acquire value and meaning due to provenance.
Anagrammatic English words are printed on these organic banners, resulting in a mélange of references from diverse contexts that span Pacific geographies, art history, and popular culture. The juxtaposition of Harry’s witty wordplay with the rich heritage of the tapa cloths invites viewers to contemplate their own narratives and the fluidity of the language systems.
Usually exhibited en masse these gargantuan banners present an ever larger narrative of cross-cultural exchange, these evocative works have been widely exhibited in significant venues including Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA-21), Vienna in 2017; 56th Venice Biennale in 2015; Monash University Museum of Art, Victoria in 2012; and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney in 2012.