Gina Rinehart pressures Australian gallery to remove portrait by Vincent Namatjira – now the whole net is searching for it

The work was previously shown in 'Vincent Namatjira: Australia in colour' at AGSA, with the current exhibition set to run until 21 July at NGA.
The portrait, among two other works of Gina Rinehart, are reproduced in Vincent Namatjira's monograph. Image: Supplied, courtesy Thames & Hudson.

On 15 May, news came out that Australian mining magnate and billinaoire Gina Rinehart has been pressuring the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) to remove a portrait of her by First Nations artist, Vincent Namatjira.

The work, Australia in Colour (2021) includes a caricature of Rinehart, among other people of fame and power, such as Queen Elizabeth II, Captain James Cook and former prime minister, Scott Morrison. It is currently exhibiting at the NGA in Namatjira’s solo survey of the same name, and previously shown at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) as part of the 2023 Tarnanthi Festival.

The NGA has purchased the work in 2022 as part of the Gallery’s 40th anniversary celebrations.

ArtsHub previously saw the work at AGSA. 'Vincent Namatjira: Australia in colour' installation view. Gina Rinehart's portrait is in the second row, third from the left. Photo: ArtsHub. A series of caricature portrait paintings on a black wall, with a cardboard cutout of Namatjira in front.
ArtsHub previously saw the work at AGSA. ‘Vincent Namatjira: Australia in colour’ installation view. Gina Rinehart’s portrait is in the second row, third from the left. Photo: ArtsHub.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Rinehart approached NGA Director Nick Mitzevich and NGA Chair Ryan Stokes in April regarding the portrait’s removal.

A statement from the NGA has subtly addressed the matter, saying, ‘The National Gallery welcomes the public having a dialogue on our collection and displays. We present works of art to the Australian public to inspire people to explore, experience and learn about art.’

Rinehart’s attempt to remove the work has, instead, prompted the Streisand effect, with the portrait now reproduced across news headlines and Google searches on a steady rise since 15 May.

As of today (16 May), a statement from the artist has been shared with ArtsHub. Namatjira stands by his work and practice, saying, ‘I paint the world as I see it. People don’t have to like my paintings, but I hope they take the time to look and think, “Why has this Aboriginal bloke painted these powerful people? What is he trying to say?”

‘I paint people who are wealthy, powerful or significant – people who have had an influence on this country, and on me personally, whether directly or indirectly, whether for good or for bad. Some people might not like it, other people might find it funny, but I hope people look beneath the surface and see the serious side too.’

So far, the NGA has withstood the pressure.

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The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has also released a statement on the topic, standing by Namatjira’s artistic freedom. ‘Namatjira’s work exemplifies this freedom, offering a critical exploration of Australia’s complex colonial history and its ties to the British Empire through subversive wit and caricature. His series of caricatures, including one featuring Gina Rinehart, provides a pointed critique of power dynamics in our society.’

NAVA Executive Director, Penelope Benton, said, ‘Freedom of expression is a universal human right highly valued by artists. NAVA asserts that artists, as historians, commentators and critics of society, should be free to create art about any subject and by any means, provided it is within the law.

‘While Rinehart has the right to express her opinions about the work, she does not have the authority to pressure the Gallery into withdrawing the painting simply because she dislikes it. NAVA emphasises that exerting pressure on galleries for removal of artwork sets a dangerous precedent for censorship and the stifling of creative expression.’

The statement continued, ‘NAVA stands in unwavering support of the NGA and its commitment to fostering an environment where artists can present their work without undue interference.’

Namatjira’s monograph, Vincent Namatjira published by Thames & Hudson, includes three reproductions of Rinehart’s portraits created by the artist, including the one she is demanding the NGA remove.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_