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Exhibition marks anniversary of Kent State University shootings


6 May 2010

Michael Callaghan, State Murder in Tehran, 2010 (detail), diptych, Epsom digital prints, each 67 x 87 cm (image size), 91 x 111 cm (paper size) edition of 10, 5 artist proofs, (with technical assistance by Gregory S. McLachlan), © the artist.
Michael Callaghan, State Murder in Tehran, 2010 (detail), diptych, Epsom digital prints, each 67 x 87 cm (image size), 91 x 111 cm (paper size) edition of 10, 5 artist proofs, (with technical assistance by Gregory S. McLachlan), © the artist.

The 40th anniversary of the shooting of students at Kent State University is commemorated in a provocative new exhibition at the University Art Gallery.

Kent State: Four Decades Later opens at the University on Thursday, 13 May, 2010, and features British pop artist Richard Hamilton's seminal 1970 screen print Kent State. The print captures the moment on May 4, 1970 when the US national guard opened fire on unarmed students during an anti-Vietnam War protest, killing four and wounding nine others.

The 13-colour screen print, an enormous edition of 5000, was based on a photograph Hamilton took from news reports as the tragedy unfolded. "I set up a camera in front of the TV for a week," Hamilton said. "If something interesting happened, I snapped it up. In the middle of the week the shooting of students by National Guardsmen occurred. The tragic event produced the most powerful images that emerged from the camera… there it was in my hand, by chance."

For Kent State: Four Decades Later, curators Dr Ann Stephen and Luke Parker invited eight contemporary artists of differing generations to reflect on the 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings and Hamilton's work. The artists, who use various media to explore political themes, include Susan Norrie, Raquel Ormella, Tom Nicholson, Michael Callaghan, Marie McMahon, Justin Trendall, Barbara Campbell and Bea Maddock, one of Australia's best-known printmakers.

Dr Stephen, senior curator of the University Art Collection, says Hamilton's work is important. "Hamilton was one of the most influential artists in British Pop Art but unlike others, his work has always had a strong political edge," says Dr Stephen. "Plus his work is mesmerizing - with Kent State Hamilton uses many translucent layers of ink to create an effect of electronic light. It is fitting that a work that captures such a significant moment of student activism is in the University of Sydney collection."

Most of the artists have produced new works. These include Barbara Campbell's Kent State Newsprint that invites interaction, by allowing visitors to make their own rubbings from "haiku" phrases compiled by the artist from newspaper pages taken from 4 to 7 May, 1970.

Michael Callaghan's confronting piece, State Murder in Tehran, 2010, mirrors the image of Hamilton's Kent State. In this new print, Callaghan has used an Internet image showing the moment before and after the death of a 26-year-old Iranian student who was shot during the protests of the 2009 election in Iran. "Time continues to throw up the same issues as relentlessly as the televised horror of the Vietnam War once did different horrors in different places," says Callaghan.

Marie McMahon, Blue Suits 2010, digital print, © the artist.
Marie McMahon, Blue Suits 2010, digital print, © the artist.

Raquel Ormella's work extends beyond the gallery into the public domain with zines and banners along the University's Eastern Avenue entitled One document among others, inserting untold stories about the tragic history of David Gundy's police killing in 1989.

"The new work reveals how these contemporary artists are engaging new media and new audiences to reflect upon an art of social commitment, just as Hamilton's historic work did for his generation," says Luke Parker.

When approached about Kent State: Four Decades Later, Hamilton, who is still working in the UK responded: "It is good to know that the Kent State print still has some juice left to carry a message. It is necessary to have our memory refreshed."

To mark the exhibition opening, a 'sit-in' entitled Students Are Revolting will be held featuring talks about Kent State, student politics and activist art from students, artists and curators. The sit-in will be held in the Quadrangle Building History Room S223 on Thursday, 13 May, from 4pm to 6pm. It will be followed by the official opening of Kent State by investigative journalist Wendy Bacon in the University Art Gallery. Admission is free and all are welcome.


Exhibition details:

What: Kent State: Four Decades Later

When: 13 May to 25 July, 2010

Where: University Art Gallery, War Memorial Arch, northern entrance to the Quadrangle, Camperdown Campus

Inquiries: 9351 6883

Cost: Free


Event details:

What: Students are revolting - Sit-in to mark anniversary of Kent State and the opening of Kent State: Four Decades Later

When: 4pm to 6pm, 13 May, 2010

Where: History Room (S223), Quadrangle, Camperdown Campus

Inquiries: 9351 6883

Cost: Free


Visit the Sydney University Museums website.



Media inquiries: Katrina O'Brien, 9036 7842, katrina.obrien@sydney.edu.au or Dr Ann Stephen, 9351 4004, ann.stephen@sydney.edu.au