Bell exposes 'white secrets' of colonisation in London
Aboriginal artist and activist Richard Bell has made it his life's work to decry the injustices and cruelties of colonial rule.
Which is why an invitation to bring his travelling installation Embassy to one of the world's most famous contemporary art spaces in the epicentre of the empire that colonised Australia was a little surprising.
"I thought wow - that's something," Bell tells AAP, sitting in the cavernous Turbine Hall of London's Tate Modern, where his enormous experiential piece will be exhibited from this weekend.
The month-long residency has been made possible by a joint acquisition partnership by the Tate and MCA, funded by a gift from the Qantas Foundation.
"I'm in the heart of the beast of the colonial empire, the British empire, the largest there's ever been," he said.
"To be here is really meaningful."
Bell has toured with Embassy for more than a decade - to New York, Moscow, India, Seoul, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, Jakarta and across Australia.
He even visited the Venice Biennale in 2019 - although in an unofficial capacity. (Bell's application to represent Australia having been rejected, he staged a protest exhibition and wrapped a replica of the Australian pavilion in chains and sailed it down the canal on a barge.)
Inspired by the original Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which was pitched on the grounds of Canberra's Parliament House in 1972, Embassy is a pop-up installation consisting of a canvas tent and chairs surrounded by protest signs.
Bell actively participates in discussions with visitors to the exhibit, exploring "questions of social justice, land rights, sovereignty, and coalition building often through a powerful critique of the legacy of European invasion and colonialism".
"I learn something new from every session - that's the great pay off for activism," he said.
"I share this space and I get all this knowledge."
Embassy is his protest, his call-to-arms against the injustice and oppression felt by Indigenous Australians and their struggle for self-determination.
An extension of the oral tradition that is an intrinsic part of Indigenous culture, the significance of bringing this conversation to the heart of the empire is not lost on Bell.
It might be more than two centuries since Australia was taken, but many other countries are suffering the same fate to this day, he said.
"(There has been) brutal colonisation - of many countries," Bell said.
"This is not an isolated instance of colonial behaviour."
In a month during which Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged allegiance to the new King of England while simultaneously pushing plans for an Aboriginal voice to parliament, the conversation seems particularly pertinent.
"(The pledge) makes a mockery of democracy - it makes a mockery of the Aboriginal people," a riled-up Bell said.
"It makes a mockery of the hopes and aspirations of millions of Australians who desperately want to break these ties which are totally unjustified.
"And we have some foreigner supposedly being our head of state?
"It's not sensible. Grow the f*** up."
Instead of focusing on the empire, the "f***ing immigrants" running Australia should make more effort to incorporate Aboriginal rights and justices into the daily culture of Australian life, Bell said.
"Every load of boat people has slotted in above us, starting from the second fleet, third fleet; the European migrants, the Asian migrants, now the African migrants," he said.
"We're nailed to the bottom and until that changes, nothing will change."
A token voice to parliament is insufficient, he said.
"There is potential there but I think they're wasting it ... they're not asking for enough. This is token," he said.
"We actually need designated seats in every house of parliament in the country, in every local council.
"There needs to be Aboriginal voices on these who are elected by Aboriginal people.
"They complain because they have to create some special rules?
"F*** yeah - they have to create special rules because it's a special set of circumstances: They stole the land from us.
"That's what gives us a right to be there.
"This is to do with the lives of people; this is to do with nation building.
"They need to get the f*** up off their a***s and start doing some s***."
Which is what Bell is trying to do with Embassy.
"We need to be educating the people... we can then get beyond," he said.
"We can't keep hiding these deep - I don't want to say dark secrets, because they're not dark, they're white secrets."