Thursday, January 1, 2009

The formation of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative

During the 1980s in Australia things were leading up to the Bicentenary of the British colonisation in 1988 and there had been a real interest in Australia and overseas about the art of Aboriginal people. In the 1980's there had been exhibitions in North America and Europe about Aboriginal art, putting it on the international stage and including it as a post colonial curatorial strategy which redressed in some cases centuries of unethical appropriations of Indigenous cultures around the world. It has only been within the last 30 years that Aboriginal art has been taken out of a sterile ethnographic museum context and recognized as an aestetic and cultural expression as unique as the landscape that it often depicts. Boomalli is a resource centre for Aboriginal artists as well as the wider artistic community and continues to make a mark on art and culture in Australia today.

During this decade many Indigenous organisations were formed in regards to the promotion Aboriginal cultural expression in media (CAAMA, Gadigal, and Indigenous Screen Australia) dance (Bangarra, NAISDA) politics (Aboriginal Provisional government, ATSIC). There was this real grassroots movement in Sydney by Aboriginal artists to have their own Aboriginal owned and operated artists co-operative. Boomalli was formed in 1987, a year before the Bicentenary. It was set up by Aboriginal artists who wanted to exhibit art on their own terms.

From around mid 1970 some of them had been included in shows that were just too general, they were included in shows which centred on Northern Territory artists, or criticised because they didn't make paintings that dealt with a traditional or spiritual subject matter. The urban Aboriginal artist's cooperative was for artists who had their own story to tell. For artists who didn't believe the tourist brochure representations of "genuine" Australian Aboriginal culture. Boomalli was a gallery for Aboriginal Artists and Curators to have the freedom to own the means of representing art which represented the living history of Aboriginal people. There were many aboriginal people who didn't believe the hype of a unified nation celebrating 200 years of 'progress' and achievement. Aboriginal people renamed the Australia day celebrations Invasion day and used the opportunity of world attention on Australia to highlight Australia's secret history of oppression of Aboriginal people. In Australia it was the Bicentenary which galvanised these forces – In South Africa it was the Anti Apartheid movement.

In some ways Boomalli was a political challenge to all the other curators and arts institutions, some non-indigenous curators were actively involved in developing the careers of Aboriginal artists and were quick to see the validity of this type of cultural expression as art. They championed the social realism of documentary photography and the narratives of injustice in many of the representational paintings of many "Urban" artists. These developments were complementary with developments in modern art history in other indigenous arts movement in the early 1980s around the world. However at this time there were not many Aboriginal people outside of politics that were actively involved in shaping the representation of Aboriginal culture. It is the difference between the representation of Aboriginal people, and representation by Aboriginal people.

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