Archie Moore’s Pillors of Democracy is, as the play on words implies, a critical examination of the four strands of modern democracy – legislature, executive, judiciary, media – and the way in which they fail to protect the most vulnerable in our community.
Moore reminds us that architectural symbols of power, conquest and dominance are illusory and are now highly contested sites. Pulling them down is an act of decolonisation, of challenging a national story that speaks of ‘discovery’ and ‘civilising’. Moore reminds us that the power of these symbols is tenaciously protected by the state – surrounding them by police to guard them from desecration. But when they topple, they are empty and thin, no more than mangled metal. In this form, they are a reminder that empires fall.
First Nations people have challenged the colonial narrative from the arrival of the first colonists. Truth-telling is a central part of the contemporary political agenda for many First Nations communities, along with treaty and the need for First Nations representation, ‘closing the gap’ and the claim for self-determination as a framework for policy and greater community control over areas that impact the lives of First Nations people.
First Nations communities around the country were organised and had systems that regulated life and behaviour. They did that without the need for prisons or orphanages. Totemic and kinship systems regulated relationships, connections, and obligations to other people. It was a system that sustained communities without the need for imposing architecture, courthouses or houses of Parliament.
Moore’s Pillors of Democracy, by signalling the lies of the pillars, by challenging their immutability, inevitability, and superiority, undermines the power colonial institutions try to assert. But by reminding us of what still lies underneath, what remains unchanged and unceded, it is also a reassertion of an enduring sovereignty.
By Larissa Behrendt AO (Gamilaroi / Eualeyai)
Distinguished Professor and Laureate Fellow at the Research Unit, Jumbunna Institute, University of Technology Sydney.
Images: Install, Cairns Art Gallery. Pillors of Democracy, 2023
Photo: Michael Marzik
The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.