Aboriginal artist Revel Cooper: a story of resilience, art and social justice
Surviving the death of his mother at six, the harsh conditions of a 1940s government settlement, an unjust murder trial and years of incarceration, Revel Cooper became a self-determined man who spoke for the rights of Aboriginal people. He played a large part in developing one of Australia's first Indigenous art movements that still thrives today.
Revel is a feature length documentary about Aboriginal art, social justice, and the criminal justice system, as well as the search for, and the reuniting of family that have been fragmented for generations. The film explores themes such as resilience, connection and cultural pride in the past, present and future.
During the 1940s, Revel Cooper, and other Aboriginal child artists of the Carrolup Native Settlement, gained international acclaim for their stunning art. We explore the kinship the boys had as they inspired each other to perfection, the encouragement of teachers Noel and Lily White, and the influence of the 'mother of Carrolup', Bella Kelly.
In 1952, 18-year old Revel was tried for murder. He stood little chance of getting a fair trial in Western Australia's predjuced criminal justice system. He was sentenced to four years prison for manslaughter for a crime that many people believed he didn't commit. Our film explores the events of the murder and Revel’s trial.
A life in and out of prison didn't stop Revel from creating art; in fact, prison helped further shape his creative abilities and allowed him to teach other inmates. He inspired at least two generations of artists.
As we uncover more of Revel’s art in private collections across Australia and abroad, we follow his niece Cathy Coomer, on a mission to track down family members, some of whom are struggling to know ‘who they are’ and ‘where they belong’. As Cathy connects family, she is helping more Aboriginal people share in the pride of Revel’s achievements.
Revel was highly respected by a wide range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Among those alive today, many are many willing to share stories about his life.
Revel stood up for Aboriginal peoples and spoke out about injustices in white-led Australian society. At the same time, he was well aware of the shortcomings of some of his people. Revel’s life ended tragically when he was murdered in 1983 in Victoria. He is buried thousands of kilometres from his homeland and family.
A migration from mission to prison to alcoholism and homelessness did not stop Revel from leaving a major artistic legacy. His prodigious artworks remain as a significant and continuing sign of resilience and hope for Aboriginal people today.
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
Our underlying premise is that the world will be a better place when all voices are heard equally and with empathy.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
Our project aims to help:
1. Aboriginal people gain a sense of pride and hope through Revel’s artworks and his resilience in the face of considerable adversity.
2. Connect Aboriginal families that have been fragmented by past government policies.
3. A worldwide audience to gain a better understanding of Australia's past and present injustices towards Aboriginal people, and learn that there are potential solutions to these human rights issues.
4. A worldwide audience see the beauty of Aboriginal art, culture and country.
Our project is not just about how many people watch our film and interact with our accompanying content. It’s also about helping people change their thinking and behavior, both in terms of themselves and others. It’s about our film facilitating the development of initiatives based around the themes upon which we have focused. In relation to the former, we will be able to use a variety of measures to assess impact, e.g. numbers of people who view the film, website visitors, iBook sales, schools and communities showing the film, etc.
It is more difficult to measure the impact of the film on changing people’s thinking and behavior. However, we will monitor the feedback and stories we receive via our websites, iBooks and other initiatives. We have a long-term experience in following the development of new Aboriginal (and non-Aboriginal) initiatives at a community level via our past work in communities, so we will keep an eye open for initiatives that have been catalyzed by the ‘Revel’ project and monitor their progress.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
Revel's art, his personal correspondence, newspaper clippings, yarns with family members/past associations, additional writings, plus links to existing online information, will be made accessible on www.revelcooper.com. We will link informational, yarn and ‘teaser’ film clips from a 'Revel Cooper' YouTube Channel to the website and social media. A multimedia iBook is being developed for education, community development and fundraising purposes. A Crowd Funding initiative will be developed as required.
We will push-market project news and pre-production content through our extensive direct contact list via newsletters. Aboriginal corporations and associations, as well organisations working with Aboriginal people, will be engaged. Our unique education initiative www.sharingculture.info, which focuses on Aboriginal healing, will be used to facilitate distribution of content and market the film.
Our website, YouTube, social media, iBook and direct contact initiatives will expand to encompass new and more in depth project activities, as well as further promotion. We will be contacting a wide range of international Indigenous organisations, e.g. Canada, USA, New Zealand to inform them about our initiative, as Indigenous related issues and solutions are similar in many countries.
Relationships with Australian and international distributors are now being worked up with the idea of holding off on any premature commitment until film festival acceptance and participation is gauged. The results of the latter leaves room for broader reach opportunities and bargaining power for exclusivity rights of the project. ABC & SBS Commissioning teams will be presented with outlines on our 90-minute feature length documentary, which could be structured to split into two 45-minute segments for a 2 x 1 hour series time slot.
Assuming a successful result from international film festivals, a short theatrical release at independent cinemas across Australian capital cities may be considered as part of a national marketing strategy. Our promotional campaign will be in full swing via our websites, YouTube channel, social media, personal contacts, iBook initiative and word-of-mouth.
Our Sharing Culture Advisors will facilitate distribution and community showings and talks in key places. We’ll also be looking to present at high profile organisations that link the arts and wellbeing, e.g. the Royal Society of Arts in the UK.
We will create a new educational iBook about the overall project that will be marketed to Aboriginal corporations and associations, educational establishments, and organisations working in health, social and criminal justice sectors around the world.