Roberta Joy Rich: The Purple Shall Govern

Roberta-Joy-Rich-The-Purple-Shall-Govern-photo-Courtesy-of-UCT-Libraries-Special-Collections-and-ArchivesExploring the resilience of people during Apartheid-era South Africa, alongside those living on the unceded sovereign lands of Australia, Footscray Community Arts presents The Purple Shall Govern, an exhibition and expansive public program presented by artist Roberta Joy Rich.

Under the Nationalist Party government, South Africa’s nation was under siege. In response to civil unrest, President P.W. Botha declared a State of Emergency that enabled police and defence forces increased power and unfettered abilities to restrict political resistance and censor reportage.

Almost 15 years prior, Queensland State Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson, granted similar powers through a month long State of Emergency as a response to demonstrations taking place during the South African Springbok Rugby Tour.

These events are significant because they symbolise and remind us of the unspoken and systematic forces of oppression endured by First Nations and Black peoples by colonial governments.

Inspired by surviving evidence of an Anti-Apartheid protest in Cape Town in 1989, artist Roberta Joy Rich presents a series of new sound, video and installation works that act as a catalyst and timely interrogation for recognition and reflection through a process of reframing moments, affirming stories and anarchiving materials.

Drawing upon the artist’s southern African family narratives, and settler nation Australia’s colonial imposition on First Nations communities, The Purple Shall Govern hopes to challenge and affirm experiences of publics, inviting us to navigate and consider our relationships with histories that have residually informed the ways in which we move within public space.

What are the conditions of power in public spaces? How do they inform our ontologies, presence and permissions of movement today?

The Purple Shall Govern is a new major work that endeavours to reveal the slippery nature of borders and their embedded presences,” says artist Roberta Joy Rich.

“The exhibition invites us to navigate and consider our relationships with histories that have residually informed the ways in which we move within public spaces.”

“It considers the duality of boundaries that have informed resilience, and the unyielding nature of people and publics.”

Roberta Joy Rich is a multi-disciplinary artist who seeks to re-frame archives of African identity and histories, responding to constructs of “race” and gender identity. Often referencing her own diaspora southern African identity and experiences, she utilises language, archives and sometimes satire, in her video, performance, installation and mixed media projects.

Rich draws from various socio-political, historical and popular culture epistemologies, to engage with notions of “authenticity”, with the aim of deconstructing colonial modalities and proposals of self-determination within her arts practice. Since completing her Master of Fine Arts at Monash University, Rich has exhibited projects in Melbourne, interstate and across Johannesburg and Cape Town.

An alumni of Footscray Community Art’s Emerging Creative Leaders Program (2017), her residencies in South Africa have been supported by NAVA, The Freedman Foundation and Australia Council for the Arts.

She is the 2020 recipient of the Debra Porch Award for an upcoming residency at the Cemeti Institute for Art and Society, Yogyakarta, Indonesia and recently received a Creative Development Grant for a new moving image work supported by ACMI and the Ian Potter Cultural Trust.

Roberta Joy Rich: The Purple Shall Govern
Footscray Community Arts, 45 Moreland Street, Footscray
Exhibition continues to 27 March 2022
Free entry

The Purple Shall Govern is presented as part of Who’s Afraid of Public Space? in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Image: Roberta Joy Rich, The Purple Shall Govern 2021. Photo Courtesy of UCT Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. The artist has applied a purple hue to the original monochrome archival image.