Kate Daw and Stewart Russell: The Waiting Room is the latest iteration of the artists' ongoing collaborative project that engages the political gesture of Australian athlete Peter Norman at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, together with its social and cultural legacy.
In October 1968, Peter Norman, ran second in the 200m men’s final in Mexico City. As Norman stood on the podium with his fellow sprint champions, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century was created as the two African-American athletes raised their fists in protest at the state of civil rights in America. Less widely known is the fact that Norman joined them in this action by wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, as agreed before the athletes took to the winner’s podium. All three men suffered professionally as a result of this gesture, however they remained friends for the duration of Norman’s life. Smith and Carlos carried the coffin at Norman’s funeral in 2006, and Norman has always been considered civil rights hero in America.
For over a decade Daw and Russell have engaged the story of Peter Norman in their collaborative work, touched by his simple act and continually inspired by the story of standing up for something larger than oneself. The Waiting Room comprises painting, text, installation and textiles, as well as various commemorative elements – each offering a subjective impulse to this historical act.
Conceptually framing the exhibition is German philosopher, Walter Benjamin’s 1940 critique of a small painting by Paul Klee (Angelus Novus, 1920). Benjamin reads the painting as an angel being drawn backwards and inexorably into the future, forced to face history. He anticipates the desire to focus on a future unencumbered by history and a cycle of war. Likewise, with The Waiting Room, Daw and Russell invert Paul Klee’s angel and ask us to face our own – individual and collective – future.