Interview: Reg Mombassa

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Published:  March 25, 2013
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Interview: Reg Mombassa

Originally born in New Zealand, Reg Mombassa has gone on to become one of the most widely recognised and well-respected visual artists in Australia. Here he shares some of his politically motivated work, as well as some insights into his outlook on the world.

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Where did your interest in politics and social issues begin?
I was only 11 years old during the Cuban missile crisis, but I realised then that politics affected our lives very specifically and often horrifically. I have had a sporadic interest in politics since then.

What do you believe are the most important political and social issues facing Australia?
Finding a balance between human needs, business interests and a healthy ecosystem. Better living conditions, health, economic opportunities and some sort of a treaty for Indigenous people. Also, a fairer treatment of asylum seekers and marriage equality for homosexuals.

These are local concerns. On a global scale, we need to radically transform our consciousness or the human race is doomed. All the ridiculous belief systems – religions, ancestor worships, national, political, tribal, cultural, sporting affiliations and the warrior cult of the alpha male – need to go in the dustbin of history. Wake up humans!’

Do you believe that today’s artists and designers are equipped to respond to these issues?
Artists are humans. They always respond to the things that concern other humans.

What do you think is required to make a  political statement in art and design that actually resonates with people, and makes a difference?
I’m not sure that art does make a difference. Political artworks generally resonate with the people who already share the views expressed in them.

What is the most memorable political or socially motivated campaign that you’ve worked on?
Probably the T-shirt Mambo did for Greenpeace criticising the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor. It provoked the most outraged response from conservative politicians and media commentators, which surprised me somewhat.

Have you ever regretted making a political statement?
I don’t actually regret it and although having a nuclear reactor on the edge of a big city seems like a dumb idea, it is an issue that doesn’t concern me overly. The thousands of nuclear weapons still existing in an unstable world are a far greater worry than a small experimental reactor in Sydney.

What are you most proud of in terms of your political work?
I’m an artist who occasionally expresses a political opinion or contributes a picture to a specific fundraiser. It would be presumptuous and inaccurate to call myself a political activist. That is a noble calling that I lack the focus, courage and generosity of spirit to pursue. Having said that, I’m proud of all the pictures I have done that have some political content, but I’m just as happy painting pretty landscapes.

Images: selected work by Reg Mombassa.

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