Thursday, August 5, 2010


                               Dianne Jones "Shearing the rams" 2002

My proposal is that Aboriginal art has itself been an intervention into Australian art history.  The reasons for this intervention are both historical and political however the main focus of much writing about this process have been too focused on the economic outcomes of this process without acknowledging the profound cultural shift that this has entailed and how the intervention of Aboriginal culture into Australian art history.

Between 1980 and 2000 federal and state Australian governments departments have proactively provided funding for the development of community art centers in regional in Australia primarily in areas where large populations of Aboriginal people live.  These centers were created on the basis of creating economic outcomes for communities rather than economic outcomes for individuals. 

Many Aboriginal people who do not live in remote art centers have challenged the presumptions of this process and the label of Urban Aboriginal art has sometimes been accepted and rejected by Aboriginal people.

If the personal is political what does this mean when the art that is being produced in remote art centres is government funded?

The positive experiences of remote regionally based artists having their own visual language to record and document local knowledge and their own first person account of their own history in a symbolic language that is protocol based has been one of the few positive examples to emerge from decades of government interventions into Aboriginal communities.  

In an international art historical context Interventionism can be both a visual aesthetic and curatorial strategy that manipulates pre-existing structures of representation and presentation of art. Over the past three decades post modern and post colonial aspects of many Australian museums and galleries exhibition programs have strategically positioned Aboriginal art as separate from Australian art. 

Interventionism is most often a political, economic or medical term that applies to the external influence of a situation to produce better outcomes and sadly it is no surprise that Aboriginal people today are still subjected to an intervention by the Australian federal government in order to improve international perceptions of obvious Aboriginal disadvantage.

The northern territory intervention that has been in place since 2007 and has been openly supported by both sides of government has not changed anything in the day to day lives of the Aboriginal people that it is meant to change. 

Numbers of non Aboriginal Australian farmers living in remote areas are comparatively the same size to the Aboriginal populations living in remote areas yet they are still treated very differently to Aboriginal people living in remote communities and contrary to popular opinion receive much less financial support from the government.

Welfare quarantining, accusations of squandering taxpayer money on alcohol, drugs and pornography used to enact the intervention on Aboriginal people belie a deeper racism that still exists in the Australian community in regards to the government’s responsibility to provide basic services for Aboriginal people in remote areas and perceptions of corruption leveled against Aboriginal organisations and communities.

In 2006 the Australian wheat board gave US$222 million dollars to Sadam Hussein’s government during a time when Australia was at war with Iraq in order to break trade sanctions that were affecting Australian farmers.  Australian Farmers were not blamed or punished for these massive failures of government to protect their interests so why are Aboriginal people in remote communities being subjected to draconian penalties that have been resisted when proposed to be applied to non Aboriginal families living in similar social circumstances in other areas of Australia?

The apology to the stolen generations was simply correcting the mistakes of the previous government – it was not a new initiative of the 2007 Labor party and the same governments decision to carry on with the suspension of the racial discrimination act and to continue the previous governments “intervention” shows a fundamental lack of originality in their approach to Indigenous affairs.

Intervention can be seen most clearly in installation art where the artist as aware of the social and political construct of the gallery or museum space their work is being exhibited in.  The pro active inclusion of contemporary art produced by Aboriginal people acted as a counter point and an institutional critique to the not insignificant Australian art historical cannon. 

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 aesthetic and cultural expression as unique as the landscape that it often depicts.  Australian Aboriginal arts international recognition and reception provides the first of hopefully many new genres of categorizing Australian art history.

The interdisciplinary nature of contemporary art especially in relation to exhibitions, theatrical productions and new historical narratives can create a platform for Aboriginal people with limited exposure to educational and training opportunities in the arts to contribute to the cultural legitimacy of government funded arts opportunities for all Australians. 

It could be said the development of Aboriginal art has itself been an intervention into Australian art history through its overwhelming commercial success and positive critical reception among academic and federal arts funding sources.

Many of the social initiatives such as the Aboriginal legal and medical services were interventionist strategies by Aboriginal community members that had seen to be effective from international black power movement in the United States and South Africa. 

There is a tendency to separate the history of Australia from the history of Aboriginal people but the role that Aboriginal people played in the shaping of all aspects of this nation is crucial to understanding many of the disputes over land rights through historical accounts and records that exist today.

This is an exhibition of New South Wales based Aboriginal artists who are directly intervening or whose work itself is an intervention into expectations of what Aboriginal people can say about the Northern Territory intervention.  NSW Aboriginal people are silenced from speaking about issues affecting Aboriginal people in the Remote Australia through respect for Aboriginal protocols in relation to the representation of cultural information from particular areas. 

This exhibition presents artworks that are directly responsive to the fact that intervention affects all Australians and that if an intervention is at all necessary it is into the short sighted and paternalistic approach that is always applied to issues regarding Aboriginal people who choose to live in remote communities.

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