Skip to main content
Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Eddie Mabo (after Mike Kelley's 'Booth's Puddle' 1985, from Plato's Cave, Rothko's Chapel, Lincoln's profile) No.3

1996
John Citizen

synthetic polymer paint on canvas (support: 168.0 cm x 152.5 cm depth 3.0 cm)

Koiki (Eddie) Mabo (1936–1992) initiated a legal case in 1982 which ultimately led to the establishment of the principle of native title within Australian law. Born on Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait, Mabo grew up immersed in Meriam culture and became active in political causes after moving to the mainland in 1959. His address to a land rights conference in Townsville in 1981 prompted a group of Meriam to lodge a case with the High Court for legal ownership of Mer. In the 1988 case known as Mabo No. 1, the High Court found that Queensland legislation seeking to extinguish Torres Strait Islander land claims was in contravention of the Racial Discrimination Act. In the case known as Mabo No. 2, the seven Justices of the High Court found 6-1 in favour of Mabo and his co-plaintiffs, overturning the view that Australia had been terra nullius (nobody’s land) before colonisation.

John Citizen is the artistic alter ego of Gordon Bennett, whose work examines ideas of cultural and personal identity and colonialism. Bennett said that initially he 'could not think of [Koiki] as a real person … I only [knew] the Eddie Mabo of the "mainstream" news media, a very two-dimensional "copy" of the man himself.' To create this portrait, he used a newspaper image and headlines combined with an image by the American artist Mike Kelley. 'To me the image of Eddie Mabo stood like the eye of a storm, calmly asserting his rights while all around him the storm, a war of words and rhetoric, raged.'

Purchased with funds provided by L Gordon Darling AC CMG 1999
© Gordon Bennett Estate

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.
Audio description icon

Audio description

3 minutes 22 seconds
Show transcript

Artist and subject

John Citizen (age 41 in 1996)

Eddie Mabo

Subject professions

Activism

Supported by

The Gordon Darling Foundation (36 portraits supported)

© National Portrait Gallery 2022
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency