PA2012_115.jpg "Le Speks" (1984). Graham Kirk. Collection of Puke Ariki (PA2012.115).

Never one to shy away from airing a political viewpoint, Graham Kirk’s screen print Le Speks leaves no doubt about his thoughts on French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll. Created during the height of the nuclear tests and the Pacific-wide protests against them, the artwork references the popular brand of French sunglasses, Le Specs. A skeleton-like Navy admiral, wearing a pair of sunglasses, has no hope of protection as a mushroom cloud bursts from his skull. The print laughingly challenges the idea that minimal protective clothing issued to troops observing the detonations would keep them safe.

The French exploded over 180 nuclear weapons in the Pacific from 1966 to 1996. Radioactive contamination was known to have spread as far as Peru and New Zealand. The French Ministry of Defence has also recently admitted the atoll is at risk of collapsing, which would release radioactive contaminants into the ocean.

Le Speks was printed in 1984, a year before the Rainbow Warrior was sunk in Auckland harbour by French Secret Service agents, and highlights the outrage at the nuclear testing many ordinary Kiwis felt. Kirk has also turned his attention on other environmental issues over the years, including a chemical spill at Ivon Watkins Dow in New Plymouth, the impact of industry on the Taranaki landscape and, most recently, the consequences of the mining practice known as ‘fracking’.

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