Thompson - - - Turning Tricks for Colonial Kicks
Australia has long
been misrepresented in the fine art tradition by Europeans for Europeans.
Colonial painters were so entrenched in the particular European style
that it was almost impossible for them to render images of the land
without applying this romanticism. Their motivation was to transform
the Australian landscape from alien to familiar through an aesthetic
vocabulary within which they operated. This imposition upon the landscape
constituted a cultural conquest and manipulated the realities of Australia's
population and geography.
The relationship between colonial representations of the landscape necessarily
involved an editorial process equivalent to pornography. This practice
of exclusion results in outcomes of self-gratification for Europeans
and one of exile for indigenous people.
It was not until late 1800's that a uniquely Australian style would
be born in Melbourne and championed as … the first identifiable
national school. The Heidelberg School represented a new-found hope
that was to untangle Australia's identity from the shackles of imperialism
and its colonial past. The focus was on this new generation that would
consecrate an absolute affinity with the land through their work. And
yet, traditional cultural Aboriginal art had been doing this for time
immemorial and remains the nations most distinctive movement.
The European framework of fine art reduced traditional cultural practice
to an anthropological context. Aboriginal art was removed from communities
and contained within the jurisdiction of national institutions. Indigenous
people have been, like our art, exiled and contained under the jurisdiction
of an alien authority. For indigenous people access to our culture must
be negotiated through a European bureaucracy.
For indigenous persons to authenticate themselves we must conform to
Eurocentric definitions. An Aboriginal cannot be an Aboriginal, you
must be of Aboriginal extraction or descent. If we were to comply to
aesthetic principles of Blakness inflicted by European imagination the
solarium industry would boom, perming each others hair would be a popular
cosmetic pastime and most of us would develop rheumatoid arthritis in
one leg, due to forever assuming our one legged stance.
The Eurocentric assessment of Blakness for Aborigines is something that
has permeated indigenous society, that to be Aboriginal you must suffer
or have suffered within a Eurocentric system.
Adrian Piper, an African American Artist / Philosopher describes this
phenomenon within America:
"I have sometimes met blacks socially who, as a condition of social
acceptance of me, require me to prove my blackness by passing the Suffering
Test: They recount at length their recent experiences of racism and
then wait expectantly, sceptically, for me to match theirs with mine.
Mistaking these situations for a different one in which an exchange
of shared experiences is part of the bonding process.
This idea of Blakness is an 'either', 'or' policy and for Europeans
it is easier to polarise Blak identity than to recognise contemporary
indigenity as a multicultural concept.
It would not be until the culture wars of the 1980's and 1990's that
the symbolism of the Blak/colonised body would enter great public debate
and scrutiny on an international level, especially in America. However
this trend translated to Australia as a new generation of urban Aboriginal
artists entered the international fields of performance, photography
This was an entirely new genre for Australian art and the placement
of Aborigines in metropolitan areas in non-traditional context, Aborigines
were making art for Aborigines by Aborigines.
To be 'urban', 'Aboriginal' and active in society but retain an indigenous
identity is considered a volatile combination. Aborigines in urban environs
are most political and dangerous to the establishment when we are simply
Christian Thompson 2003
Emotional Striptease 2002
Projected Dissolving Images
Courtesy of the Artist