Nice Coloured Girls

(Tracey Moffatt, Australia, 1987)


From the start – her stylish photographic portraits of black Australians and her first short film Nice Coloured Girls – Tracey Moffatt was an Aboriginal artist who, almost without having to say it, demanded her right to a fulsome dialogue with, and immersion in, supposedly white cultural traditions and domains.

Here was stylishness, avant-gardism, ironic wit, sophisticated pastiche, along with analysis, otherness and (as they say in the art world) oppositionality. And here, especially in her first film, was a casual but devastating insistence on the pleasures of desire, theft, and the reverse exploitation by the oppressed of their exploitative masters.

Nice Coloured Girls also developed Moffatt's pronounced taste for artifice. Like many artists of her generation, Moffatt displays an almost reflex phobia for any form of aesthetic realism – whether documentary photography, naturalistic drama, or the that's-life brand of pale, humanist sentiment which fills our mainstream media. One obviously anti-realist exploration of artifice appears in her 1988 tape Moodeitj Yorgas, an attempt to transform the talking heads, testimonial documentary form with the aid of video-art techniques and treatments. But more generally, Moffatt opts for a certain manner of artifice associated with the theatre, and theatricality.

Nice Coloured Girls develops out of a clash of materials – some seemingly off-the-cuff and naturalistic (as in the street scenes), others more frankly stylised. This will to mix carefully mocked-up styles – border crossing, again – characterises all her subsequent film work. But it's the artificial bits of Nice Coloured Girls that really stay in the mind: fields of primary colour; odd, angular arrangements of fake walls, doors and windows; shadow plays of bodies and gestures cast at cartoonish angles; disembodied tableaux, like the strange image of a pair of legs climbing up a rope in front of a quaint, colonial-era painting which shifts and crashes below frame.

MORE Moffatt: Bedevil, Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy

MORE Australian indigenous films: Black Chicks Talking, Whispering In Our Hearts, Beneath Clouds, The Tracker, Ten Canoes, Rabbit-Proof Fence

© Adrian Martin 1993/October 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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