racebook: Doing more than ‘report page’

We know trends, hashtags and memes come and go. We move on rather rapidly on social media. But among the moments online, between being emotionally blackmailedtrolled or smiling at something completely adorable, a really detestable activity reappears, and it won’t go away even if we report it; it just changes its facade.

A page appeared on Facebook on Thursday called Are abos scum? The concept is not new, it’s just in a new guise. In fact it has the same images as the previous anti-indigenous “hate pages” that inspired someone to go beyond clicking “report page” and to actually make a difference.

For an emerging artist, Raymond Zada has achieved swift success. His work ‘racebook’ has garnered national and international attention and recently won the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award for works on paper. It’s only the second work he has exhibited.

The piece began in August 2011, well before the recent spotlight on odious aboriginal memes, and it is a powerful commentary using the vicious comments of those hate pages to form the word ‘racebook’ in a graphic spoof of the Facebook logo.

Of Aboriginal/Afghan decent himself, Raymond created the work after a friend drew the page ‘Aboriginal Spongebob’ to his attention. Once he began to investigate, he found this type of page was prolific and not difficult to find. He wanted to do something more positive and useful than simply reporting the racist content to have it taken down.

“People say, ‘look what we’ve done to change to world’, and give themselves a big pat on the back, when in fact they haven’t done anything, they’ve just hidden the problem,” he told me.

To Raymond, the piece “represents purging the hateful comments, there was some pretty horrendous stuff there. It’s about doing something real and not hiding the issue”.

There were 10 prints of ‘racebook’ produced and the 150 x 50 cms piece is going into public collections in Australia and the United States, as well as to private collections here and in Germany.

Raymond, who has his own computer programming business, plays around with graphic design and Photoshop and said that, as he’d never picked up a paint brush, using a computer to create the work was a logical choice.

His first opportunity to exhibit was during NAIDOC Week 2012 at the Counihan Gallery in Melbourne. That piece, ‘Timeline’, also comments on social media and is a humorous reflection on the information and images people choose to post on Facebook. The piece is 16 small self-portraits taken throughout a day – with the colour shots showing the posts, and black and white images showing what was really going on. “It’s about the image we project of ourselves as opposed to what is really happening in our day-to-day lives”.

The final post of ‘Timeline’ talks about a “full on day”, but the images show him playing video games, sleeping, sitting on the loo, and not exactly taxing himself.

Photos: Janelle Low

While Raymond said he hadn’t experienced any negative fallout from the success of the ‘racebook’, he was sure it would come. “The piece is raising awareness of some people’s opinions and attitudes towards aboriginal people in Australia; it’s an opportunity to see what people are thinking and saying. This is a societal issue which is beyond the responsibility of Facebook.”

“I’m making social commentary on social media because that’s in my face every day. My work just happens to be directed at social media at the moment.”

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like he’ll run out of material to comment on anytime soon.

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