Always “Tasty”, Regardless: Art, Chocolate and Indigenous Australians

Bronwyn Fredericks, Pamela CroftWarcon

Abstract


Black women are treated as though we are a box of chocolates presented to individual white women for their eating pleasure, so they can decide for themselves and others which pieces are most tasty (hooks 80).

Introduction

bell hooks equates African-American women with chocolates, which are picked out and selected for someone else’s pleasure. In her writing about white women who have historically dominated the feminist movement, hooks challenges the ways that people conceptualise the “self” and “other”. She uses a feminist lens to question widespread assumptions about the place of Black women in American society. hooks’s work has been applied to the Australian context by Bronwyn Fredericks, to explore the ways that Aboriginal women and men are perceived and “selected” by the broader Australian society.

In this paper, we extend previous work about the metaphor of chocolate to discuss the themes underpinning an art exhibition—Hot Chocolate—which was curated by Troy-Anthony Baylis and Frances Wyld. Baylis and Wyld are Aboriginal Australians who are based in Adelaide and whose academic and creative work is centred within South Australia. The exhibition was launched on 14 November 2012 as part of Adelaide’s Visual Arts Program Feast Festival 2012 (CroftWarcon and Fredericks). It was curated in Adelaide’s SASA Gallery (which is associated with the School of Art, Architecture and Design at the University of South Australia). This paper focuses on the development of Hot Chocolate and the work produced by Aboriginal artists contained within it, and it includes a conversation about the work of Pamela CroftWarcon. Moreover, it discusses these works produced by the artists and links them back to the issues of identity and race, and how some Aboriginal people are selected like chocolates over and above others. In this, we are interested in exploring some of the issues around politics, desire, skin, and the fetishisation of race and bodies. 

The Metaphor of Chocolate

This work will focus on how Aboriginal Australians are positioned as “chocolates” and how people of colour are viewed by the wider society, and about whether people have a pliable “soft centre” or a brittle “hard centre.” It uses hooks’s work as a point of reference to the power of the metaphor of chocolate in considering questions about who is “tasty.”

In the Australian context, some Aboriginal people are deemed to be more “tasty” than others, in terms of what they say, write, and do (or what they avoid saying, writing, or doing). That is, they are seen as being sweeter chocolates and nicer chocolates than others. We understand that some people find it offensive to align bodies and races of people with chocolate. As Aboriginal women we do not support the use of the term ‘chocolate’ or use it when we are referring to other Aboriginal people. However, we both know of other Aboriginal people who use the metaphor of chocolate to talk about themselves, and it is a metaphor that other people of colour throughout the world similarly might use or find offensive. Historically, chocolate and skin colour have been linked, and some people now see these connections as something that reminds them of a colonial and imperial past (Gill).

Some Aboriginal people are chosen ahead of others, perhaps because of their “complementary sweetness,” like an after-dinner mint that will do what the government and decision makers want them to do. They might be the ones who are offered key jobs and positions on government boards, decision-making committees, or advisory groups, or given priority of access to the media outlets (Fredericks). Through these people, the government can say, “Aboriginal people agree with us” or “this Aboriginal person agrees with us.”

Aileen Moreton-Robinson is important to draw upon here in terms of her research focused on white possession (2005). Her work explains how, at times, non-Indigenous Anglo-Australians may act in their own interests to further invest in their white possession rather than exercise power and control to make changes. In these situations, they may select Aboriginal people who are more likely to agree with them, ether knowingly or in ignorance. This recycles the colonial power gained through colonisation and maintains the difference between those with privilege and those without. Moreover, Aboriginal people are further objectified and reproduced within this context.

The flip side of this is that some Aboriginal people are deemed to be the “hard centres” (who are not pliable about certain issues), the “less tasty” chocolates (who do not quite take the path that others expect), or the “brittle” types that stick in your teeth and make you question whether you made the right choice (who perhaps challenge others and question the status quo). These Aboriginal people may not be offered the same access to power, despite their qualifications and experience, or the depth of their on-the-ground, community support. They may be seen as stirrers, radicals, or trouble makers. These perceptions are relevant to many current issues in Australia, including notions of Aboriginality.

Of course, some people do not think about the chocolate they choose. They just take one from the box and see what comes out. Perhaps they get surprised, perhaps they are disappointed, and perhaps their perceptions about chocolates are reinforced by their choice.

In 2011, Cadbury was forced to apologise to Naomi Campbell after the supermodel claimed that an advertisement was racist in comparing her to a chocolate bar (Sweney). Cadbury was established in 1824 by John Cadbury in Birmingham, England. It is now a large international corporation, which sells chocolate throughout the world.  The advertisement for Cadbury’s Bliss range of Dairy Milk chocolate bars used the strapline, “Move over Naomi, there's a new diva in town” (Moss). Campbell (quoted in Moss) said she was “shocked” by the ad, which was intended as a tongue-in-cheek play on Campbell's reputation for diva-style tantrums and behaviour. “It's upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me but for all black women and black people,” she said. “I do not find any humour in this. It is insulting and hurtful” (quoted in Moss). This is in opposition to the Aboriginal artists in the exhibition who, although as individuals might find it insulting and hurtful, are using the chocolate reference to push the boundaries and challenge the audience’s perceptions.

We agree that the metaphor of chocolate can take us to the edge of acceptable discussion. But we also believe that being at the edge of acceptability allows us to explore issues that are uncomfortable. We are interested in using the metaphor of chocolate to explore the ways that non-Indigenous people view Aboriginal Australians, and especially, discussions around the politics of identity, desire, skin, and the fetishisation of race and bodies.

Developing the Exhibition

The Hot Chocolate exhibition connected chocolate (the food) and Hot Chocolate (the band) with chocolate-coloured people. It was developed by Troy-Anthony Baylis and Frances Wyld, who invited nine artists to participate in the exhibition. The invited artists were: Troy-Anthony Baylis, Bianca Beetson, Pamela CroftWarcon, Cary Leibowitz, Yves Netzhammer + Ralph Schraivogel, Nat Paton, Andrew Putter and Dieter Roth (CroftWarcon and Fredericks). The exhibition was built around questions of what hot chocolate is and what it means to individuals. For some people, hot chocolate is a desirable, tasty drink. For others, hot chocolate brings back memories of music from the British pop band popular during the 1970s and early 1980s. For people with “chocolate-coloured skin”, chocolate can be linked to a range of questions about desirability, place, and power.

Hot Chocolate, the band, was based in Britain, and was an inter-racial group of British-born musicians and immigrants from Jamaica, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Grenada. The title and ethnic diversity of the group and some of their song lyrics connected with themes for curatorial exploration in the Hot Chocolate exhibition. For example:

I believe in miracles. Where you from, you sexy thing? … Where did you come from baby? ... Touch me. Kiss me darling… — You Sexy Thing (1975).

It started with a kiss. I didn’t know it would come to this… — It Started With A Kiss (1983).

When you can't take anymore, when you feel your life is over, put down your tablets and pick up your pen and I'll put you together again… — I’ll Put You Together Again (1978).

All nine artists agreed to use lyrics by Hot Chocolate to chart their journeys in creating artworks for the exhibition. They all started with the lyrics from It Started With A Kiss (1983) to explore ways to be tellers of their own love stories, juxtaposed with the possibility of not being chosen or not being memorable. Their early work explored themes of identity and desirability.

As the artists collaborated they  made many references to both Hot Chocolate song lyrics and to hooks’s discussion about different “types” of chocolate. For example, Troy-Anthony Baylis’s Emotional Landscape (1997-2010) series of paintings is constructed with multiple “x” marks that represent “a kiss” and function as markers for creating imaginings of Country. The works blow “air kisses” in the face of modernity toward histories of the colonial Australian landscape and art that wielded power and control over Aboriginal subjects.

Each of the nine artists linked chocolate with categorisations and constructions of Aboriginality in Australia, and explored the ways in which they, as both Aboriginal peoples and artists, seemed to be “boxed” (packaged) for others to select. For some, the idea that they could be positioned as “hot chocolate”—as highly desirable—was novel and something that they never expected at the beginning of their art careers. Others felt that they would need a miracle to move from their early “box” into something more desirable, or that their art might be “boxed” into a category that would be difficult to escape. These metaphors helped the artists to explore the categories that are applied to them as artists and as Aboriginal people and, particularly, the categories that are applied by non-Indigenous people.

The song lyrics provided unifying themes. I’ll Put You Together Again (1978) is used to name the solidarity between creative people who are often described as “other”; the lyrics point the way to find the joy in life and “do some tastin'.” You Sexy Thing (1975) is an anthem for those who have found the tastiness of life and the believing in miracles. In You Sexy Thing, Hot Chocolate ask “Where you from?”, which is a question that many Aboriginal people use to identify each others’ mobs and whom they belong to; this question allows for a place of belonging and identity, and it is addressed right throughout the exhibition’s works. The final section of the exhibition uses the positive Everyone’s A Winner (1978) to describe a place that satisfies. This exhibition is a winner, and “that’s no lie.”

Pamela CroftWarcon’s Works

In a conversation between this paper’s authors on 25 November 2013, Dr Pamela CroftWarcon reflected on her contributions to the Hot Chocolate exhibition. In this summary of the conversation, CroftWarcon tells the story of her artwork, her concepts and ideas, and her contribution to the exhibition.

Dr Pamela CroftWarcon (PC): I am of the Kooma clan, of the Uralarai people, from south-west Queensland. I now live at Keppel Sands, Central Queensland. I have practised as a visual artist since the mid-1980s and have worked as an artist and academic regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Bronwyn Fredericks (BF): How did you get involved in the development of Hot Chocolate?

PC: I was attending a writing workshop in Brisbane, and I reconnected with you, Bronwyn, and with Francis Wyld. We began to yarn about how our lives had been, both personally and professionally, since the last time we linked up. Francis began to talk about an idea for an exhibition that she and Troy wanted to bring together, which was all about Hot Chocolate.

As we talked about the idea for a Hot Chocolate exhibition, I recalled a past discussion about the writing of bell hooks. For me, hooks’s work was like an awakening of the sense and spirit, and I have shared hooks’s work with many others. I love her comment about Black women being “like a box of chocolates”. I can understand what she is saying. Her work speaks to me; I can make sense of it and use it in my arts practice.  I thus jumped at the chance to be involved.

BF: How do you understand the concepts that frame the exhibition?

PC: Many of the conversations I have had with other Aboriginal people over the years have included issues about the politics of living in mixed-race skin. My art, academic papers, and doctoral studies (Croft) have all focused on these issues and their associated politics. I call myself a “fair-skinned Murri”. Many non-Indigenous Australians still associate the colour of skin with authentic Aboriginal identity: you have to be dark skinned to be authentic. I think that humour is often used by Aboriginal people to hide or brush away the trauma that this kind of classification can cause and I wanted to address these issues in the exhibition. Many of the exhibition’s artworks also emphasise the politics of desire and difference, as this is something that we as Indigenous people continually face.

BF: How does your work connect with the theme and concepts of the exhibition?

PC: My art explores the conceptual themes of identity, place and Country. I have previously created a large body of work that used found boxes, so it was quite natural for me to think about “a box of chocolates”! My idea was to depict bell hooks’s ideas about people of colour and explore ways that we, as Aboriginal people in Australia, might be similar to a box of chocolates with soft centres and hard centres.

BF: What mediums do you use in your works for the exhibition?

PC: I love working with found boxes. For this work, I chose an antique “Winning Post” chocolate box from Nestlé. I was giving new life to the box of chocolates, just with a different kind of chocolate. The “Winning Post” name also fitted with the Hot Chocolate song, Everyone’s A Winner (1978). I kept the “Winning Post” branding and added “Dark Delicacies” as the text along the side (see Figure 1).

 

Figure 1.Nestle’s “Winning Post” Chocolate Box. Photograph by Pamela CroftWarcon 2012.


PC: I bought some chocolate jelly babies, chocolates and  a plastic chocolate tray – the kind that are normally inserted into a chocolate box to hold the chocolates, or that you use to mould chocolates. I put chocolates in the bottom of the tray, and put chocolate jelly babies on the top. Then I placed them into casting resin. I had a whole tray of little chocolate people standing up in the tray that fitted into the “Winning Post” box (see Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2. Dark Delicacies by Pamela CroftWarcon, 2012. Photograph by Bronwyn Fredericks 2012.

 

Figure 3. Dark Delicacies by Pamela CroftWarcon, 2012. Photograph by Pamela CroftWarcon 2012.


PC: The chocolate jelly babies in the artwork depict Aboriginal people, who are symbolised as “dark delicacies”. The “centres” of the people are unknown and waiting to be picked: maybe they are sweet; maybe they are soft centres; maybe they are hard centres. The people are presented so that others can decide who is “tasty”─maybe politicians or government officers, or maybe “individual white women for their eating pleasure” (hooks) (see Figures 4 and 5).

 

 

Figure 4. Dark Delicacies by Pamela CroftWarcon, 2012. Photograph by Pamela CroftWarcon 2012.


Figure 5. Dark Delicacies by Pamela CroftWarcon, 2012. Photograph by Pamela CroftWarcon 2012.

BF: What do you hope the viewers gained from your works in the exhibition?


PC: I want viewers to think about the power relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I want people to listen with their ears, heart, mind, and body, and accept the challenges and changes that Indigenous people identify as being necessary.

Icould have put names on the chocolates to symbolise which Aboriginal people tend to be selected ahead of others, but that would have made it too easy, and maybe too provocative. I didn’t want to place the issue with Aboriginal people, because it is mostly non-Indigenous people who do the “picking”, and who hope they get a “soft centre” rather than a “peanut brittle.” I acknowledge that some Aboriginal people also doing the picking, but it is not within the same context.

BF: How do you respond to claims that some people might find the work offensive?

PC: I believe that we can all tag something as offensive and it seems to be an easy way out. What really matters is to reflect on the concepts behind an artist’s work and consider whether we should make changes to our own ways of thinking and doing. I know some people will think that I have gone too far, but I’m interested in whether it has made them think about the issues.

I think that I am often perceived as a “hard-centred chocolate”. Some people see me as “trouble,” “problematic,” and “too hard,” because I question, challenge, and don’t let the dominant white culture just simply ride over me or others. I am actually quite proud of being thought of as a hard-centred chocolate, because I want to make people stop and think. And, where necessary, I want to encourage people to change the ways they react to and construct “self” and “other.”

Conclusion

The Hot Chocolate exhibition included representations that were desirable and “tasty”: a celebration of declaring the self as “hot chocolate.” Through the connections with the food chocolate and the band Hot Chocolate, the exhibition sought to raise questions about the human experience of art and the artist as a memorable, tasty, and chosen commodity. For the artists, the exhibition enabled the juxtaposition of being a tasty individual chocolate against the concern of being part of a “box” but not being selected from the collection or not being memorable enough. It also sought to challenge people’s thinking about Aboriginal identity, by encouraging visitors to ask questions about how Aboriginal people are represented, how they are chosen to participate in politics and decision making, and whether some Aboriginal people are seen as being more “soft” or more “acceptable” than others.

Through the metaphor of chocolate, the Hot Chocolate exhibition provided both a tasty delight and a conceptual challenge. It delivered an eclectic assortment and delivered the message that we are always tasty, regardless of what anyone thinks of us. It links back to the work of bell hooks, who aligned African American women with chocolates, which are picked out and selected for someone else’s pleasure. We know that Aboriginal Australians are sometimes conceptualised and selected in the same way. We have explored this conceptualisation and seek to challenge the imaginations of others around the issues of politics, desire, skin, and fetishisation of race and bodies. 

References

Croft, Pamela. ART Song: The Soul Beneath My Skin. Doctor of Visual Art (Unpublished thesis). Brisbane: Griffith U, 2003.

CroftWarcon, Pamela and Bronwyn Fredericks. It Started With a KISS. Hot Chocolate. Exhibition catalogue. Adelaide: SASA Gallery, 24 Oct.-29 Nov. 2012.

Fredericks, Bronwyn. “Getting a Job: Aboriginal Women’s Issues and Experiences in the Health Sector.” International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies 2.1 (2009): 24-35.

Gill, Rosalind. Gender and the Media. Malden, MA: Polity, 2007.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress Education as the Practice of Freedom. London: Routledge, 1994.

Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. “The House That Jack Built: Britishness and White Possession.” ACRAWSA Journal 1, (2005): 21-29. 1 Feb. 2014. ‹http://www.acrawsa.org.au/ejournal/?id=8›

Moss, Hilary. “Naomi Campbell: Cadbury Ad “Insulting & Hurtful”. The Huntington Post 31 May (2011). 16 Dec. 2013. ‹http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/31/naomi-campbell-cadbury-ad_n_868909.html#›

Sweney, Mark. “Cadbury Apologises to Naomi Campbell Over ‘Racist’ Ad.” The Guardian 3 Jun. (2011). 16 Dec. 2013. ‹http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/jun/03/cadbury-naomi-campbell-ad›


Keywords


tasty; chocolates; colour; skin; race; politics; Aboriginal; Indigenous; Australia



Copyright (c) 2014 Bronwyn Fredericks, Pamela CroftWarcon

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