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    Book Launch: Crosscurrents in Australian First Nations and Non-Indigenous Art

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    Join us for the launch of Crosscurrents in Australian First Nations and Non-Indigenous Art

    Crosscurrents in Australian First Nations and Non-Indigenous Art (Routledge 2023) edited by Sarah Scott (ANU), Helen McDonald (Melbourne) and Caroline Jordan (Latrobe) is a collection of essays that examines art resulting from cross-cultural interactions between First Nations and non-Indigenous people, from British invasion up to now.

    Terry Smith, Emeritus Professor of Art History (Sydney) writes:

    Truth-telling and reconciliation between First Nations and those who have since arrived has become the priority for all Australians, in all aspects of our lives and work. Awareness of this fact has been two centuries, and more, in the making. Indigenous art has been crucial to this development. It is a vivid evocation of a sovereign culture, an offering to fellow Australians and the wider world.

    With the recent defeat of the referendum on the Voice the themes of recognition, collaboration and dialogue as played out in art are more urgent than ever. The book includes two conversational collaborations: one with First Nations artist Maree Clarke and one with First Nations curator Vanessa Russ, and an historian’s self-reflexive account of mediating between Traditional Wurundjeri Owners and Sotheby’s international art auction house to repatriate art by nineteenth-century Elder, William Barak, in 2022. Other essays address political protest in the contemporary moment: one in portraiture by photographer Therese Ritchie, of Garrwa and other people from Borroloola, the site of the McArthur River mine, and another analysing iconoclasm or ‘iconoclash’, in the blowing up of sacred sites at Juukan Gorge by mining company Rio Tinto and the defacing of statues of Captain Cook in the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Going back in time, studies examine ‘reverse appropriation’ by early nineteenth-century Aboriginal carvers of tourist artefacts and the production of enigmatic toa in the context of a South Australian mission. Cross-cultural dialogue and appropriation into the post-war period is traced in the evolution of the First Nations textile and fashion industry and in ‘Aboriginalism’ in design in the 1950s, in a comparison of the artistic and political work of Aboriginal activist and designer Bill Onus with that of white assimilationist designer Byram Mansell. Transculturation, conceptualism and collaboration are contextualised in the pivotal decade of the 1980s, which saw a new wave of intellectual and avant-garde appropriation and collaboration in the work of artists including Gordon Bennett and Imants Tillers, and a flourishing of collaborative First Nations ‘little’ exhibitions in the cultural powerhouse of the Aboriginal suburb of Redfern in inner-city Sydney.

    The book will be launched, appropriately, with a dialogue or ‘in-conversation’, moderated by Professor Brenda L. Croft, improvising around the theme of ‘crosscurrents’ in First Nations and non-Indigenous art and curatorship.


    Professor Brenda L Croft is from the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra peoples from the Victoria River region of the Northern Territory of Australia, and also has Anglo-Australian/German/Irish/Chinese heritage. Brenda is Professor, Indigenous Art History and Curatorship, Centre for Art History and Art Theory, College of Arts & Social Sciences, ANU, and many will be familiar with her distinguished work over several decades as an artist and a curator. In 2023/4 Brenda will be the inaugural First Nations woman to take up the role of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University.

    Dr Elisa deCourcy is Research Fellow (DECRA), Centre for Art History and Art Theory, Research School of Humanities and the Arts, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences. Elisa specialises in the nineteenth-century history of photography. Her current project combines archival research, practice-led investigation and consultation with First Nations Communities on heritage collections of colonial photography.

    Dr Ursula Frederick is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Canberra and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the School of Culture, History and Language, ANU. Ursula has a background in art history, archaeology and visual arts. Ursula’s research embraces rock art, the archaeology of art, inscription and other mark-making activities, including graffiti.

    This event is generously supported by the ANU Drill Hall Gallery and the ANU School of Art and Design.

    Copies of the book will be available for sale on the night.

    Image: Mrs N. Lewis from Pukatja (Ernabella), SA. Australian Coat of Arms: We Were There and We Are Here (2018). Spinifex grasses, raffia and wool. Copyright Tjanpi Desert Weavers, NPY Women's Council. Photograph by Emma Poletti. Australian Parliament House Collection.

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