Politics, pain and pleasure: the art of art-making for ‘settled’ Aboriginal Australians

Lorraine Gibson


Since the emergence of the ‘acrylic art movement’ which came out of Papunya in the Western Desert of Australia in the 1970s, Aboriginal art and cultures have become intertwined in public discourse, through government policy, and in visual art worlds. It is arguably through their artworks that Australian Aboriginal people have become increasingly known both within Australia and overseas (Merlan 2001; cf. Fourmille 1994).i Indeed, in many ways, Aboriginal art has come to represent Aboriginal people and their culture (Myers 2002). But what kind of art is acceptably deemed Aboriginal in mainstream art worlds, by Australian Aboriginal people, and why? What does this mean personally, socially and economically for those Aboriginal artists who are located in the south-eastern parts of Australia which were first colonised? For the most part these people are deemed by the mainstream population to have ‘lost their culture’. More than this, they are spoken of by some other Aboriginal people from the more remote and later colonised parts of the continent in similar terms. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork with the Barkindji people of Wilcannia, a small country town in the south-east of Australia, this paper explores the role of art making and art talk and the ways in which these are implicated in the politics of culture, in cultural subjectivity, and in the consolidation and (re)creation of cultural identity.


Aboriginal Australians; Aboriginal art; Wilcannia

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1344/co20115119-129


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