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"Bananas" 1890

Wall text

Wall text

Arthur Streeton
Born 1867, Wathaurong Country/Mount Duneed, Vic.

Died 1943, Wurundjeri Country/Olinda, Vic.

Pronouns: he/him.

 

"Bananas" 1890


oil paint on wood panel

The Stuartholme-Behan Collection of Australian Art. The University of Queensland holds the collection on loan from Sacred Heart Education Ministry which acknowledges the kind support of the Behan Family and The University of Queensland.

 

Arthur Streeton was a renowned painter of the Heidelberg School, a group of young Australian painters who worked en plein air in the Victorian bushlands during the late nineteenth century, and who were often described as establishing ‘Australian Impressionism’. Together, these artists developed a distinct nationalistic visual aesthetic within colonised Australia. Streeton became famous for his expansive, lyrical paintings of bushlands and colonial pastures. This still-life study of bananas ripening evokes the laborious splendour of these pastoral horizons and the produce that they yield. 
 
Streeton’s still life draws attention to the iconic status of the banana in Australia, and in the context of Dusk of Nations, accumulates additional meanings. The fruit is both a staple of Australia’s settler-colonial agricultural industry and a symbol of potential economic instability. In 1986, the then Federal Treasurer, Paul Keating, famously warned Australians that the country was becoming a ‘banana republic’. Keating’s comment was directed towards the nation’s one-dimensional and unsustainable resource extraction-dependent economy, which has only been exacerbated since.

The more recent historical context of Keating's ‘banana republic’ critique of Australia’s national economic governance, symbolised in the banana, embeds a subtle tension in the work and contrasts with the inherent nationalism of Australian Impressionism. Artists working in this style often propagated a naive romanticisation of the local natural environment, which can be understood as an attempt to create space for settler-Australians within the landscapes they were estranged from. Streeton’s work during this time became known for its mythologising of landscapes from the perspective of the settler, seeking narratives of ownership over, and belonging to, the land that occluded both the colony’s convict past and the original inhabitants. 

 

These contexts colour interpretations of Streeton’s apparently innocent study. This close-up still life of a specific agricultural product invokes globalisation, and the transformation of the landscape into a site of agricultural and cultural import in the service of the production of tradeable commodities. The banana specifically acts as a symbol of cultural and economic insecurity and anxiety around the nation's economic reliance on the relentless exploitation of these landscapes.
 

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