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"Banana Boat Sundae" c. 2001

Wall text

Wall text

Luke Roberts
Born 1952, Iningai and Yagalingu Country/Alpha QLD.

Lives and works in Yuggera and Turrbal Country/Brisbane, QLD. Pronouns: he/him.

 

"Banana Boat Sundae" c. 2001

 

poster and paint on Masonite board and wood

 

Collection of The University of Queensland. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Peter Bellas, 2020.

 

Luke Roberts’s Banana Boat Sundae is an assisted readymade, constructed of found objects. The base of the work is a banana-shaped support for a plastic banner, brandishing a sign reading: “Just Peel Off What You Need!” Propped up on these plastic bananas is a vintage election poster for Sir Johannes (Joh) Bjelke-Petersen’s National Party.  

 

Roberts’s piece offers a tongue-in-cheek critique of Queensland’s authoritarian political history under Bjelke-Petersen’s time as Premier of Queensland (1968–1987). This period was defined by initially strong economic growth through resource extraction, but also by endemic government corruption, police brutality, and oppressive conservatism. Bjelke-Petersen fought for the construction of a uniquely ‘Queenslander’ nationalism, separated from the rest of Australia as a superior state. Nationhood, for Bjelke-Petersen, was defined by state borders: southern states were perceived as enemies to the Queensland ‘nation’ and its values. 

Towards the end of Bjelke-Petersen’s premiership, Paul Keating, the then Federal Treasurer, warned Australians that the country was becoming a ‘banana republic.’ The term refers to the idea of a vulnerable and one-dimensional national economy that is over-reliant on the export of a narrow range of natural resources. Roberts references this in his work, using unstable plastic bananas to precariously balance the grinning portrait of Bjelke-Petersen. The banana imagery also alludes to the specific economic and social significance of the fruit. As a major exported resource of the state, bananas have come to form a central component of Queensland’s lexicon and identity, with Queenslanders colloquially referred to as ‘banana benders.’  

 

Roberts’s pseudo-memorial is playful and mocking, but also remembers the harsh challenges the artist endured during Bjelke-Petersen’s reign. Under this authoritarian-leaning governance, Queensland’s LGBTQIA+ community—of which Roberts is a member—faced relentless oppression. Through this readymade, Roberts reflects on his complicated relationship to his home state, and how this has influenced his own sense of nationhood and belonging. 

 

In 1985, Bjelke-Petersen was awarded a Doctor of Laws honoris causa by the Senate of The University of Queensland, with the awarding ceremony held in this building. Up to 5,000 staff, students, and members of the public gathered in protest of this award on the lawns outside Mayne Hall, as the building was then known. 
 

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