Inside the Collection

Michael Callaghan 1952-2012

Poster, `Buy CAAMA Cassettes' 1984
90/91 Poster, `Buy CAAMA Cassettes’, paper, designed by Michael Callaghan and Jeff Stewart, made by Redback Graphix, Wollongong, 1984. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The above bi-lingual screenprinted poster design by Michael Callaghan, was produced at Redback Graphix in Wollongong in 1984 for CAAMA, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (established 1980). CAAMA is owned by the Aboriginal people of Central Australia, and aims to advance social, cultural and economic benefits to local people. CAAMA was the first Aboriginal group in Australia to be allocated a broadcasting licence, and this poster is one of the earliest bi-lingual posters designs produced for an Aboriginal community.

The poster features a striking image of an Aboriginal man in a red shirt holding out a CAAMA cassette. The subtle background bleed of pink and blue inks evokes a sunset and the vast open skies of the Australian outback. The Redback Graphix logo, a spider in a triangle, appears in the lower right hand corner of the poster.

Sadly, the well known Australian artist, poster designer and sculptor Michael Callaghan (b. 1952) who produced this design, passed away this week. Callaghan not only undertook important commissions like this CAAMA cassettes poster design, but he also used the medium of posters for political activism and social commentary, creating poster designs in the 1970s and 1980s which confronted key current social issues ‘head on’. Many memorable poster designs were produced by Callaghan and others at the Earthworks Poster Collective at the University of Sydney’s Tin Sheds in the mid-1970s, and then at Redback Graphix (founded by Callaghan in 1979) in the early 1980s. These posters combine strong colours, bold iconography and a razor sharp wit to help grab attention and raise awareness of the need for social change.

At the height of the HIV-Aids epidemic in Sydney in the 1980s for example, Callaghan and Paul Cockram produced the now iconic CONDOMAN ‘Don’t be shame, be game’ posters and t-shirts for the Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health’s National Advisory Council on AIDS (NACAIDS). Callaghan and his colleague’s fluorescently colourful, screenprinted Australian poster designs like this, are considered some of the best of their type in the world.

In recent years, despite ill health, Callaghan would often come into the Powerhouse Museum, donating his time and knowledge to help update our collection records. He’d not only identify the designers, but also provide interesting anecdotal background information about the posters which helped bring the posters to life. Most recently, he undertook a review of all 115 posters in the Di Holdway poster collection, providing valuable and useful information about many posters in this collection.

The Museum is still hoping to secure more Michael Callaghan’s poster designs, including one of the rarest and earliest Redback Graphix posters, a strong and most provocative design titled ‘Q. If the unemployed are dole bludgers, what the fuck are the idol rich?’. If anyone has a copy, and would be happy to part with it, please let us know. It would be good to add this important early work to the collection, where it can be securely preserved for future generations.

Michael Callaghan will be deeply missed by his friends and colleagues. The Museum has lost a kind and generous supporter.

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