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

Author(s): Lorraine Gibson

Journal: Coolabah
ISSN 1988-5946

Volume: 5;
Start page: 119;
Date: 2011;
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Keywords: Aboriginal Australians | Aboriginal art | Wilcannia

Since the emergence of the ‘acrylic art movement’ which came out of Papunyain the Western Desert of Australia in the 1970s, Aboriginal art and cultures have becomeintertwined in public discourse, through government policy, and in visual art worlds. It isarguably through their artworks that Australian Aboriginal people have becomeincreasingly known both within Australia and overseas (Merlan 2001; cf. Fourmille 1994).iIndeed, in many ways, Aboriginal art has come to represent Aboriginal people and theirculture (Myers 2002). But what kind of art is acceptably deemed Aboriginal in mainstreamart 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-easternparts of Australia which were first colonised? For the most part these people are deemed bythe mainstream population to have ‘lost their culture’. More than this, they are spoken of bysome other Aboriginal people from the more remote and later colonised parts of thecontinent in similar terms. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork with the Barkindjipeople of Wilcannia, a small country town in the south-east of Australia, this paperexplores the role of art making and art talk and the ways in which these are implicated inthe politics of culture, in cultural subjectivity, and in the consolidation and (re)creation ofcultural identity.

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