Benny Zable’s Greedozer costume, the full face gas-mask with the red radioactive sign on the end of the filter canister, was a regular feature at many demonstrations in the 1980s. He was a living sculpture with a message.
Zable’s gas-mask along with other the ephemera of mass protest demonstrations has been curated at the City Gallery in the Melbourne Town Hall in an exhibition curated by Malcolm McKinnon. The small exhibition traces the history of protests in Melbourne from 1962 Women’s Day marches through to recent anti-fascist protests. There is a “wreck the draft poster” from the Students for a Democratic Society printed on National Service Registration forms. And an improvised cardboard sign from the taxi driver protests that block Flinders Street in 2008.
There is no denying the cultural importance of these events and images; protests are part of the spectacle of a democratic society. A photograph of a young Aboriginal protester from the 1976 in front of the Captain Cook Cottage still resonates with the current statue wars. Along with photographs and posters, there are protest signs in the exhibition but no banners; there wasn’t enough space in the small gallery and, maybe all the good old trade union banners are at the Potter Museum of Art’s exhibition State of the Union (I don’t know I haven’t seen it yet). The photographs of banners makes me wonder if protest marches are reconfigured religious processions, mass displays of passionate faith.
The exhibition attempts to give a balance between the government/police and other views. But can there ever be a balanced when the police using batons against peaceful protestors or driving over them with a police car at the S11 protests? The pretence that there is a tolerance of protests is one of the foundations of the illusion of a liberal democracy.