Photographer Darren Siwes's Little Brown Boogey Man

Conjuring eerie family scenes fueled by issues of race

With titles like The Amelioration of the Octoroon and The Clouded Eye of the Unrational Mind, these works address several racial issues, including identity (masks), belonging and blending in (transparency and location changes), and escape from the Australian stigma of being Aboriginal (the business suit). Most effective is Tabula Rasa, which positions Siwes and his wife before a dilapidated rural shack; the image succinctly captures a history of segregation while also presenting, with the couple's determined stance, a defiance toward any turning back. Seen altogether, though, the individual photographs in this series lose some of their effectiveness in the repetition. The buildings change, but the figures' postures don't. There's really no growth from one image to the next.

An Australian 
Twilight Zone, 1901: Siwes's They Were Playing Mirror
Courtesy of Magnan Projects
An Australian Twilight Zone, 1901: Siwes's They Were Playing Mirror


Darren Siwes: 'Mum, I Want to Be Brown'
Magnan Projects
317 Tenth Avenue
Through February 9

But it's to Siwes's credit that his messages never dominate. The images' moods, touching on the nightmarish and full of tension, are what first unsettle you. Then you begin to understand the context. Encountering Siwes's dreamscapes— especially the vibrant family tableaus—is like first hearing Billie Holiday girlishly sing "Strange Fruit" and then realizing, after a shudder, what the song's about.

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