by Andrew Upton
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by Andrew Upton


Hanging Man opens the morning after the death of a family matriarch. Her death leaves the estate of her long dead husband, a (fictional) famous and contentious Australian artist, in the hands of his three sons. At the core of their father’s legacy is a series of paintings of which the eponymous Hanging Man is the centrepiece. At the time of its first showing, the painting, depicting Governor Davey’s 1816 speech to the Aborigines, has caused enormous controversy. The eldest surviving son, art dealer Thomas, is on the brink of selling to a famous expatriate Australian actress, while his half brother, Robert, has been charged (by his mother) with reuniting the scattered series and gifting it to the nation.

The narrative surface of Hanging Man is a family trying to cope with grief in the wake of the death of its upper generation, but its deeper political themes articulate a vision of contemporary Australia facing the buried, guilty secrets of the past. Who stands to make what? How culpable is the present for the actions of past generations? What right does the present have to ‘whitewash’ the past?

“I admire Hanging Man because it tackles what I feel is one of the most challenging issues that will face white Australia in the next generation, namely this sense of patriarchy and privilege which is our colonial legacy. The question of how to cope with it gracefully, sensitively and, above all, collectively, is the great challenge facing us in this generation.”
– Tom Healey, Red Door curator

Tom in conversation with Andrew Upton about Hanging Man:

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