There is a joke in here somewhere. I know that your home town changes over time but I am looking at a shirt I used to wear in an actual exhibition. This is that shirt. Behold it’s 90s glory.
Amazing, right? Actually the exhibition is a lot better than I expected. Any Australians reading this will know that there was a period of the early/mid nineties where Mambo was ubiquitous. Then in the way of all zeitgeists, it was as if we collectively woke up one morning and its caché/relevance had drained out of the world like water out of a bath. We stopped wearing it. It went away.
With the benefit of hindsight, there is something odd to all this. When you realise we were getting around in these shirts at the same time Baz Lurhmann was making Romeo and Juliet, it becomes apparent that there was some kind of naive folk/surfing Catholicism in the Australian air at the time. And whilst they are certainly ‘of their time’, they’re actually pretty good pieces of work in their own right:
Part of me thinks Mambo is a hangover-like reaction to the Fatal Shore, published only a few years beforehand. The reason I think this is that Jesus and co are sort of haunting contemporary Australian culture in these works, highlighting the changes in morals as we moved into the prosperous, property-obsessed Howard era. There is Jesus standing on the shore watching the boat people being turned back, there is Jesus among the Aborigines as the prime minster refuses to apologise for the Stolen Generation. It’s a weird, colourful ‘God is watching’ sort of warning.
It never really occurred to me before either, but Mambo was a flat-out, 90s-era egregore… approaching a servitor in the tongues of old Chaotes. Essentially it was a collective built around a brand built around the intersection of surfing, politics, culture and morality. Johnny Rotten himself was kicking about with them. Click to embiggen parts of the timeline:
It even had odd… not syncs, per se… just oddities. Like when thieves broke in and stole eight t-shirts, 24 CDs, a pot plant and a bar fridge that only contained a ham sandwich, along with a $3 bottle of port. But they left a Reg Mombassa original, insured for $10,000 and worth a lot more. It’s called ‘starving wolves at the gates of civilisation’. This is it:
Well hello Old Scratch. I begin to wonder if Mambo’s recurring leitmotifs didn’t have a wide impact on me. I certainly lived the brand. (We all did.) Here are some of the ‘naive art social commentaries as t-shirts’ from the show. The first one is for Chris Knowles, obviously.
The next one was topical at the time, given France’s nuclear testing in the Pacific that so outraged Australia and New Zealand.
A few more shirts (embiggenable).
More imagery that is certainly more pagan/occult than I remember. Ten year olds would be getting around with this on their torsos. That seems weird now, right?
Newcastle never struck me as a place to engage in a sartorial/ontological revolution. It still doesn’t. It still looks like this.
Not sure what to make of it at the moment, but I thought you might appreciate the visuals. And I would appreciate some commentary from Australian readers. Mambo: weirder than we remember? Part of a wider visual/cultural thing going on at the time? Comments on a card below.