Mongrel Mob Portraits|Jono Rotman|City Art Gallery Wellington|14 March – 14 June
By Laura Duffy
The exhibition consists of large photographic prints of Mongrel Mob members in frames, occupying three rooms upstairs in the City Art Gallery Wellington.
When entering I received a shock at the intense energy coming from these portraits. As there is a wall separating the entrance and the staircase, I felt a little enclosed which added to the intensity of the photographs. The middle section, where the audience enters, holds massive, slick, and extremely confronting portraits of members of the Mongrel Mob in a traditional portrait style – naturally lighting and naturally posed. The room to the left holds a photograph of a 1970s photograph and a collage, both keeping consistent with the large clear photographic prints. The room to the right holds more large prints with one being a photo of a Mob family, a father and two boys.
Although I have never had any problem encounters with the Mongrel Mob, I come from the east coast where they are quite prominent. Every time had an encounter I’ve automatically avoided eye contact at all costs. It is an interesting, slightly terrifying experience being able to look into and study the face of a gang, which represents awful things. Looking at the tattoos on their faces I can’t help but feel like they’ve received a misguided wrong impression of what mana is.
Thinking that they are warriors, but warriors of what? It forces me to think about why would someone go so far as to permanently ink their skin with the name of a gang that stands for evil. Forcing The Mob to be at the forefront of every interaction in their lives. I found it interesting that the names of the men on the wall text, none of them used their family names, all replaced with “rogue” “notorious” or their city, removing their history. I assume these men have had awful lives to push them into such a drastic lifestyle, that the system has failed them. They are disconnected and outsiders of the community. For this reason I think they’re really interesting to bring into a public art gallery.
The exhibition has received negative attention in the media as one of the men photographed is on trial for murder, the media concentrated on the fact that the victims father thought it was disrespectful to show his photograph.
I’m torn because I don’t want to give these men any personal gratification in the fact that they’re obviously scaring me – in this sense, the entire exhibition pisses me off. I’m happy that the audience for this is Wellington rather than the East Coast because I think it would’ve read differently with more gang affiliations as well as victims of The Mob. In New Zealand we have gang problems, and we can’t look away forever, a discussion around why this is occurring and what can be done to help needs to be had. I think that this exhibition is a interesting starting point to that conversation.