Australian Billionaire’s Attempt to Remove Unflattering Portrait Backfires, Draws More Attention

Gina Rinehart, Australia’s wealthiest person, is less than pleased about a recent painting of her currently being exhibited at one of Australia’s largest art museums. However, her reported attempts to get the unflattering portrait taken down are backfiring: the piece, part of a collection of portraits by an acclaimed Indigenous artist, has been defended by the museum, the arts industry, and perhaps worst for her, social media users who have given it more attention than ever.

The portrait depicts the 70-year-old Rinehart with a misshapen head, downturned lips, and a double chin. It is part of an exhibition titled “Anthropic” which opened at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra in March and is set to run until July 21.

The exhibition of portraits by Namatjira, a 40-year-old Aboriginal Australian who has won the prestigious Archibald Prize for portraiture, also contains depictions of other famous people including Queen Elizabeth II, former Australian soccer player Adam Goodes, and former Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and Scott Morrison, all in Namatjira’s style that often employs humor and exaggerated features to interrogate the rich and powerful.

“I paint the world as I see it,” Namatjira said, in response to Reinhart’s reported attempts to have her portrait taken down, in a statement shared with TIME by the NGA on Thursday. “People don’t have to like my paintings, but I hope they take the time to look and think, ‘why has this Aboriginal bloke painted these powerful people? What is he trying to say?'”

“I paint people who are wealthy, powerful, or significant—people who have had an influence on this country, and on me personally, whether directly or indirectly, whether for good or for bad,” he said.

According to Namatjira, who explained his intention behind the exhibition at a panel discussion organized by the NGA in March, the portraits are meant to convey that “we are all equal in Australia, no matter where you’re from, no matter what you do or what background you’re from, or what heritage you’re from, we’re all Australian.” He added that the choice of wall colors—red, black, and yellow—represents the Aboriginal flag.

This is not the first time Rinehart has featured in Namatjira’s paintings. In his 2017 paintings “Gina Rinehart” and “Gina and Vincent”, she’s portrayed standing beside the artist himself; she was also painted as a miner in his 2017 series “The Richest.”

Rinehart, who took over mineral extraction company Hancock Prospecting from her father and whose net worth is estimated at $29.17 billion, is known for her financial support of the country’s sporting scene. She’s also listed on the NGA’s website as a “friend” of the gallery for donating between A$4,999 (over $3,000) and A$9,999 (under $7,000) in the most recent fiscal quarter.

Rinehart directly contacted NGA council director Nick Mitzevich and chair Ryan Stokes to ask for the removal of her portrait, and associates of her company have lodged more than a dozen complaints to the gallery, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Wednesday. A group of 20 Australian swimmers a sport for which she’s known to provide vital funding have also campaigned against her portrait on display, calling it offensive.

The gallery is not backing down, saying in a statement on Wednesday that it “welcomes the public having a dialogue on our collection and displays.”

“Since 1973, when the National Gallery acquired Jackson Pollack’s Blue Poles, there has been a dynamic discussion on the artistic merits of works in the national collection, and/or on display at the gallery,” the NGA said. “We present works of art to the Australian public to inspire people to explore, experience and learn about art.”

The National Association for the Visual Arts also published a statement backing the right for artists to “create art about any subject and by any means.”

“While Rinehart has the right to express her opinions about the work,” the association’s executive director Penelope Benton said on Thursday, “she does not have the authority to pressure the gallery into withdrawing the painting simply because she dislikes it.”