Therese Ritchie is a prolific Darwin-based non-Indigenous artist who utilises her extensive skills in photography and graphic design to produce works that make hard-hitting social and political comment on Australian society, particularly in regard to Indigenous rights.
In They all look the same to me (2020), Ritchie appropriates and digitally manipulates Francis Wheatley’s (1747-1801) sentimental realist painting of the Royal Navy officer, Vice-Admiral Arthur Phillip (1738-1814). The English artist painted Arthur Phillip (1786), shortly after the officer’s appointment as Governor of New South Wales, before he set sail on 13 May 1787 for Dharawal Country, Botany Bay. In anticipation, the work romanticises and commemorates ‘heroic’ colonial conquest, which is symbolised by the depiction of Phillip striding ashore.
In Ritchie’s version, the silhouette of Phillip is invaded by a virus enlarged under electron microscopical view, that colonises and multiplies inside his body. Infected and recast as the villain, he carries the devastation of imperialism like a disease to the Australian continent, instantly contaminating codfish (a useful food source), that lie dead on a rock beside him. Ritchie reduces Phillip’s identity to a shadow, revealing the peripheral items of a typical British captain’s uniform: hat, wig and shoes with brass buckles, which act as identifiers for an unwanted, unnamed explorer. Made in response to the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia and the Pacific in 1770 and in the context of the global 2020 coronavirus pandemic, Ritchie redirects the racist slur, ‘They all look the same to me’, towards the fleet of colonial explorers.