Australian Art
May 1, 2005 1:56 PM   Subscribe

The Aboriginal Peoples of Australia make pictures on bark, on rock, in the sand, on canvas, on their bodies. Some of them make videos, and some of them write poetry. They're pretty much like everyone.
posted by TimothyMason (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm afraid that last sentence may have driven people away from this post -- if you were trying to get people to see a movie, would you say "It's pretty much like any movie"? Besides, while we're all brothers and sisters under the skin and essentialism is a mistake, I have to say that aboriginals are less like "everyone" than most groups I know about. That said—

The art is terrific, and I think you might have concentrated on that. It's hard to appreciate a video artist when all you can see are stills, and frankly that poem in the "write poetry" link is dreadful ("I am this land and this land is me/ I am Australia"). Why not link to a survey like this, which gives an idea of what aboriginal poets have produced, with lots of examples? Me, I dislike most political verse, so I particularly appreciated the ones that play with language more, especially those that mix English with aboriginal words, like Tutama Tjapangati's "brief poem, which concerns a severe storm which lifted a sheet-iron roof off a dwelling":
too much/
little bitta cheeky bug/
kapi purlka/ walpa purlka/ ohhh! ebbrywhere!
jitapayin WHOOF! gone. Pinished!
/kapi kapi kapi/ cough’a cough’a cough’a
ohhh, too much
I like the next couple of poems, too (about two-thirds of the way down the page).

Anyway, nice post -- maybe interest will pick up tomorrow...
posted by languagehat at 5:23 PM on May 1, 2005

I really really liked the last sentence. Romanticization of other cultures is so ick.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:06 PM on May 1, 2005

Thanks for the great links, TimothyMason - here's another good gallery of aboriginal art - I particularly like the page on the artists.

I didn't find the wording your last line offputting. I think this post is like many of the good art & special interest posts - lots of appreciators, few comments - that seems particularly true on the weekends. At any rate, you've been posting some great things in your short time here - thanks ;-)
posted by madamjujujive at 9:03 PM on May 1, 2005

Thanks TimothyMason. I didn't mind your irony. But I'm not so sure about everyone in Oz. Undercurrents of implied or silent or 'knowing' racism are the recalcitrant features of anachronistic prejudice in this so-called P.C. world. Most forms are unintended but I think they still serve to foster poor attitudes and beliefs about a wonderful yet repeatedly abused people. And aboriginal people do not need any more shoulder chips. I'm not accusing you here at all. But I wouldn't necessarily be so kind if it was here in Oz. Just sayin'...

Albert Namatjira is the most famous indigenous artist from Australia and he was the first aboriginal person to be 'granted' citizenship (1957) - 10 years later for the noncelebrity traditional land owners.
His works aren't typical of traditional aboriginal art style but they fairly depict this wide brown land. My favourite. (more of his works in the main FPP link with search)
posted by peacay at 11:11 PM on May 1, 2005

peacay; these things depend on your leverage point, which I think is what you're saying. I would not want to find myself sitting next to Ron Brunton. But nor do I go for incommensurability. Translation is made difficult by our own blind spots.

Languagehat; while it's true that it would be nice to see a clip of one of Moffat's videos, she is also a photographer, and sees the stills as having their own validity. I thought it would be interesting to draw attention to someone who would probably have a lot more coverage if she were American.

I'm sorry you didn't like Hyllus Maris. She was of some importance in bringing Aboriginal cultures into the mainstream. She carried out an immense work of translation, and I suspect you could empathize with that. She and others of her generation were thrust aside in the 80s, but those later writers are indebted to the people who wrestled with an alien language and alien forms.

As to the 'strangeness' of Aborigines, I could give you the flip reply, but I won't. Instead, I'll suggest you check this out.

Concerning the number of comments, what madamjujujive said. And thanks to all for the links.
posted by TimothyMason at 12:58 AM on May 2, 2005

TimothyMason...I'm not altogether sure I understand what you're saying but I'll take it that your intentions were not less than honourable.

This is a terrific resource for all things aboriginal with some very nice art links included.
And as usual, there's a downside to the relatively recent upsurge in aboriginal art interest. I looked around but didn't immediately see any particular stories about faking, but it's widely believed to occur. Ie. Non-indigenous people producing faux-aboriginal artworks. Collectors need to both be careful/aware and have some moral character about themselves. Pipe (or should that be didgeridoo) dreams no doubt.
posted by peacay at 1:44 AM on May 2, 2005

Faking? Well, there's this., which is analysed here along with other examples.

More problematic than simple fakery is identity theft. One of the cases mentioned there - that of the poet mudrooroo - is particularly interesting.

Michael Brown's "Who Owns Native Culture" is useful.
posted by TimothyMason at 2:21 AM on May 2, 2005

She was of some importance

I'm sure she was. What does that have to do with what I said? The poem is awful, regardless of her importance, and frankly so are most of the ones quoted on the poetry page I linked. Which is not surprising; it takes a long time to develop poetic fluency in a language that has been forced on you. But the fact remains that anyone who loves English poetry is going to read that poem and lose all interest in investigating further. I was just suggesting it wasn't the best link if you want to arouse interest in aboriginal poetry in English.

As for "I could give you the flip reply, but I won't. Instead, I'll suggest you check this out": did you mean for those two links to be the same? In any case, get down off your high horse -- I read that Horace Miner piece forty years ago, thank you, and I don't need you to give me lessons in cultural relativism. Of course Westerners were just as exotic to aborigines as aborigines were to them, and of course "exotic" is a relative term, and of course aborigines have as complex and worthy a culture as anybody else and it's condescending to look at them as producers of stuff you value for its weirdness rather than for its intrinsic merits. Can we take all that as given? What I was pointing out is that there aren't many cultures still around and sort-of-thriving that strike people used to standard-issue hegemonic Western culture as being as "different" as aboriginal culture, and I think it's a little silly to ignore that and pretend they're "pretty much like everyone." Yes, yes, they eat and shit and fuck like all of us, do they not bleed, blah blah, if you feel the need to make that point, good for you, but it's still a little silly.

Also, you might reflect on the fact that it's equally condescending to value their poetry for its "historical importance" rather than for its intrinsic merits. Ooh, look, aboriginals can write bad poetry about their oppression, isn't that cute? Mustn't say it's bad, that might discourage the little fellows! The only way art improves is through ruthless pruning of the bad and encouragement of the good, and I'll bet those aboriginal poets who have achieved enough distance from their immediate situation to work seriously on their poetry roll their eyes at "I am Australia" as ruefully as I do.
posted by languagehat at 5:39 AM on May 2, 2005

Hello languagehat. Keep your shirt on. No, the second link was not supposed to go back to Miner, but I won't do it again. You have been so excessively impolite, both in your misreading of my intentions and in your admonitions that I don't really feel like continuing the conversation.
posted by TimothyMason at 5:47 AM on May 2, 2005

Excuse me, but it seems to me you're the one who was being impolite. I was the first commenter, commiserated on the lack of comments (which is of course no indication of quality), praised the bulk of the post, and suggested how it could have been profitably tightened. I may have been "impolite" about the bad poem, but so what? You didn't write it, did you? And your response was to insult my intelligence by linking that Miner piece as if I needed to be told that, gosh, Americans are wacky too and it's all relative! You'll go far in life by respecting your interlocutors rather than treating them as idiots.

Look, you're new here, and I understand that you're a bit touchy and protective of your posts, but seriously, if you think I'm impolite you need to look around the sandbox a little more. I think you're a valuable contributor and your posts have been of uniformly high quality. If I didn't, I wouldn't bother engaging with them as I did here, I'd either snark or ignore. I agree with you that aboriginal culture is important and that more people should know about it, and I was trying to help make that happen. If I stepped on your toes in the process, I'm sorry, but if your toes are that sensitive you may be in the wrong sandbox. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, no harm, no foul, and I look forward to your next post.
posted by languagehat at 6:23 AM on May 2, 2005

Anyway, nice post -- maybe interest will pick up tomorrow...

Sympathy comments?
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:17 AM on May 2, 2005

Citing Miner is an insult? Look, I don't read Miner as you seem to do, and I didn't when I first read it thirty years ago either. To my mind, Miner's piece is about writing social science texts. Your reading of *him* seems to me uncharitable. And you might reflect that even if you have read him, many of the people that pass through this place may not have done so. I put the links in because they might be interesting to other Mefites; this is not, and can't be a private conversation.

And I believe, at least on my own reading of Miner, that what he says has everything to do with the perceived exoticism of Aboriginal cultures. Ethnologists have made them stranger than they are, and our own ignorance of our history has reinforced that. But, as Alain Testart or Chris Knight have argued, there are good reasons to think that in Australia some key pieces of the universal cultural jigsaw have been kept alive, long after we managed to forget them.

Oh, and another thing. You say it's a bad poem. I don't. I'm not being condescending in citing it. I am simply exercising poor poetic judgement.

And here is that link.
posted by TimothyMason at 7:19 AM on May 2, 2005

OK, we seem to have been talking past each other to some extent (which happens a lot around here). I'm not reading Miner however you think I'm reading him; I think it's a great piece and agree with you about what he's doing. I simply thought you were using him as a club to beat me with ("You think the aborigines are exotic? Well, read this and you'll understand that we're all exotic!").

there are good reasons to think that in Australia some key pieces of the universal cultural jigsaw have been kept alive, long after we managed to forget them

Yes, and I find that exciting, which is why I thought it was unnecessarily deflating to say "pretty much like everyone," but I think I was misunderstanding what you meant by that.

And here is that link.

Wow, that sounds fascinating -- if you'd managed to link to that where you intended to, I probably wouldn't have been so snarky, and none of this unfortunate misunderstanding would have happened. Well, let us put it behind us and never speak of it again. Thanks for the link.
posted by languagehat at 2:38 PM on May 2, 2005

Great post.

(And good things come from spats, too - I'd not come across the Miner piece before.)
posted by jack_mo at 12:39 PM on May 3, 2005

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