Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The travel enrichment grant allotted to me by the Center for International and Intercultural Studies Office gave me the opportunity to undertake a personal endeavor to study and compare traditional Indigenous Australian art to contemporary Indigenous Australian art during my semester abroad program in Australia.
I had previously taken Cultural Anthropology and was exposed to the Indigenous Australian artwork through a film we watched in class. I became more interested in Indigenous Australian art after taking Australian Cinema and decided that it was of enough interest for me to pursue a study abroad program. Having knowledge of European art along with visiting many art museums in America, my passion for art was well established and being able to learn about a totally new culturally-based art style was intriguing.
While in Australia I took an Indigenous Studies course about the Indigenous Australians struggle from the time of colonization. This course helped me to explore more of the fundamentals of Indigenous Art as much of the Indigenous Australian artwork today is a reflection of their regaining of identity in Australia. The paintings help connect the Aboriginal people to the Dreaming. This out-of-body experience connects the Aboriginals to their past and to the land. Dreaming sites [the places envisioned during Dreaming] remain the primary subject of Aboriginal art
I began looking into Indigenous Australian art while in Townsville as there is a Cultural Centre in town that housed many different types of art work. While there I was able to see local artists work on canvas, murals, novelty gifts, and traditional Indigenous objects such as boomerangs and didgeridoo’s. In recent years, the commercialization of Aboriginal art has become an enormous cash industry for Australians as it is becoming a popular motif on a global scale.
I began my trip in Canberra, the capital city of Australia, where I was able to attend The National Gallery of Australia which is home to eleven displays of Indigenous art. While in Canberra, I also visited The National Museum of Australia where permanent galleries of Indigenous art exist which tell the story of Australian development from the pre-British colonization to modern Australia. Unfortunately due to the scarcity of the Indigenous art I was unable to take pictures of the exhibits.
The second part of my trip I traveled to Sydney, Australia. Here, there was a much greater focus on the modern aspects of Indigenous Australian art. I was able to visit The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Museum of Sydney. While there were many beautiful traditional and modern Indigenous artworks in these museums, there was more emphasis on the tourist attractions that exploited the Indigenous Australian identity as a novelty throughout the streets and markets of Sydney’s renowned Circular Quay; home to the Sydney Wharf, the Sydney Opera House, and the Sydney Aquarium.
My observations and class lessons led me to the conclusion that with the change in society in Australia coupled with the capitalistic point of view on a global scale has allowed for the exploitation of traditional Indigenous Australian art. Nevertheless, there still remain traditional aspects in contemporary Indigenous Australian art. My experience in Australia was both enriching and intellectually stimulating. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity provided to me by the CIIS Office and grant donors.