A stint in prison for selling drugs helped Australian artist Bindi Cole refocus her mode of expression. Having always been interested in photography, shortly after her release Cole began focusing her work on issues of identity. Aboriginal, but fair skinned, Cole had never really been sure about the way she identified with the stereotype of the Aboriginal. Her Not Really Aboriginal series, which featured fair skinned Aboriginal people in blackface, garnered her much attention.
In another work, EH5452 (Cole’s prisoner number), Cole documents her time in prison using photos, diary entries and prison issue personal items such as cigarette papers and lighters. Cathartic, for Cole, the project in her words “aims to turn something dark, hidden and shameful into something light, revelatory and beautiful.”
In yet another series, Cole spent a month capturing portraits of the Tiwi Island culture’s “Sistagirls.” A Sistagirl is a transgender person. Formerly revered in the culture, after the culture was colonized and converted to Catholicism, the Sistagirls became shunned and excluded from their tribe. Existing in their own mini world, Cole sought to capture the essence of who they are and the spirit o their community.
At the heart of all Cole’s work is this idea of identity. Scrutinizing how it’s formed, how it’s internalized and how it’s perceived, Cole’s work is provocative because, whoever you are, there are aspects of your “identity” that cause you to feel shame, pride, confusion or understanding.
“Art has given me the opportunity to be unashamedly who I am, to have a voice, a platform to stand up and say these are the things that I care about, this is what I believe in and this is who I really am.” – Bindi Cole