State of the Union

Image of 1915 Operative Painters & Decorators union banner showing four women holding painting tools

Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne


State of the Union explores the relationship of artists to political engagement through a focus on the labour movement and trade unions. The exhibition presents artworks that investigate industrial action and labour issues alongside the work of artists who draw upon the traditional visual strategies of protest, such as banners, posters, and collaborative actions. In addition to artworks that take trade unionism as a subject matter, the exhibition includes a consideration of artists whose practices are a form of cultural activism through which they advocate for fair working conditions, including those of artworkers.

This exhibition takes place at a time when unions and trades councils are working together to win back lost ground. In this moment of renewed momentum, State of the Union provides an opportunity to explore the historical relationship between art and the labour movement, and to consider how this collaborative advocacy for workers’ rights might continue into the future. More

Image: Operative Painters & Decorators Union of Australasia, Victorian Branch banner [detail], 1915. Courtesy of Museum Victoria and the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU)