Hou Leong’s Crocodile Dundee

About the time that Liu Xiao Xian’s work was on display at Federation Square, a work of similar resonance was on display in the National Gallery of Australia. The work is one of a larger series entitled An Australian Series, where the artist Hou Leong has taken iconic images of Australianness (such as an ‘Aussie’ pub, an ANZAC Day march and the culture hero, Crocodile Dundee) and digitally inserted himself into the picture in order to draw attention to the absence of Asian representations within mainstream images of Australian identity.[20] In these works Leong places himself in the centre of Australian culture as opposed to the periphery where non-Anglo Australians traditionally occupy only supplementary roles.[21]

Produced in 1994, Leong’s Crocodile Dundee parodies one of this country’s most famous exports, the quintessentially Australian Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee. The 1986 film Crocodile Dundee was directed by Peter Faiman and co-written by Australian comedian Paul Hogan, who also played the movie’s eponymous lead. While the film poked fun at Australian stereotypes, it also served to reinforce these ideas, particularly to overseas audiences. In his artwork Leong has digitally reworked a production still from the movie and superimposed his face over that of Dundee. The effectiveness of the work is carried through the element of surprise: in the highly iconic image, we are expecting to see blonde-haired, blue-eyed Hogan as Dundee, not a man of Chinese descent. Leong’s cheeky grin gives extra subtext—for while the original shows Hogan with his arms around the film’s love interest (played by blonde-haired, blue-eyed Linda Kozlowski), this time it is the bespectacled Asian guy who ‘gets the girl’.

Although Leong’s work has a playful aspect, it also speaks to a real confusion and concerns shared by many Asian-Australians stemming from the disjuncture between their everyday lives—where faces on the street show people of myriad descent, not just Anglo-Australians, versus mainstream media, public culture and even political representation, which construct Australia as almost entirely a constituency of Anglo-Australians. Ultimately, the works provide testimony to the failure of Australian multiculturalism to overcome the dominant Anglo-Australian (white) cultural hegemony.

Figure 7.2 Hou Leong, An Australian Series, Crocodile Dundee

Figure 7.2 Hou Leong, An Australian Series, Crocodile Dundee

Hou Leong, An Australian Series, Crocodile Dundee, 1994; digital photograph, 70 x 50cm; Courtesy of the artist.

[20] Images that provide the backdrop to Leong’s An Australian series include an ‘Aussie’ pub, an Anzac Day march, a group of postwar European migrants arriving by ship and an Ampol advertisement showing a blonde-haired, blue-eyed man wearing a Drizabone, seated on a motorbike with a cattle dog and featuring the line ‘I’m as Australian as Ampol’.

[21] Kho, Tseen 2003, ‘“Angry yellow men”: cultural space for diasporic Chinese masculinities’, in Kam Louie and Morris Low (eds.) Asian Masculinities: The meaning and practice of manhood in China and Japan, Routledge Curzon, London, pp. 220-243, p. 230.