Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014


Indigenous Interventions: Contemporary Photo-based Art and the Anthropological Archive

Location Sackler A
Date and Start Time 31 May, 2014 at 09:00


Marianne Riphagen (Australian National University, Canberra)  email
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Short Abstract

For several decades, Indigenous artists have mined archives for historic materials relating to their ancestors and generated or collected by anthropologists. This panel examines contemporary Indigenous photo-based artworks that draw on the anthropological archive, especially on colonial photographs.

Long Abstract

From the mid-1980s onwards, artists of Indigenous backgrounds have increasingly mined archives around the globe for historic material relating to their ancestors and generated or collected by anthropologists. Colonial photographs of Indigenous people have been particularly popular. Several artists have reworked such photographs into contemporary photo-based artworks. Australian artist Brook Andrew has used photographs of first encounters between Europeans and Indigenous people from the collection of the Royal Anthropological Institute in his Gun Metal Grey (2007) series. His work exposes what Elizabeth Edwards (2001) has termed 'raw histories': painful narratives relating to imperialism that we have hardly come to terms with. Artists like Christian Thompson and Fiona Foley, also from Australia, have chosen to allude to rather than reproduce original colonial imagery. In We Bury Our Own (2012) and Badtjala Woman (1994), these artists use their own bodies to recover, recollect, revise and repatriate representations and memories of their Indigenous forebears.

This panel invites papers that explore the use of historic anthropological materials and collections, in particular colonial photographs, by Indigenous artists around the globe to create photo-based art. Questions that may be addressed include, but need not be limited to, developments in artists' approaches to using archival material for photo-based work, conflicts resulting from the reproduction of photographs embedded in colonial representation regimes, working relations between Indigenous artists and those who manage anthropological materials and today's reception of photo-based works based on archival materials by Indigenous communities.

Discussant: Sabra Thorner

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Previous Pasts - Fiona Foley's Photomedia Interventions of History

Author: Wendy Garden (Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery) email

Short Abstract

This paper considers photomedia installations by Australian artist Fiona Foley produced in response to a photograph of a young Badtjala woman. A visual link to Foley's ancestors, the portrait was the catalyst for works that contest the dehumanization of First Australians by an anthropological gaze.

Long Abstract

This paper considers a body of work produced by Australian artist Fiona Foley created in response to an encounter with an archival photograph of a young Badtjala woman. The late nineteenth century portrait was made within scientific knowledge economies that privileged a limited range of discourses that closed meaning off and restricted interpretations. However it provided a vital visual link to Foley's ancestors and became an important catalyst for a number of photo-based interventions that contest the consumption of photographs of First Australians within anthropological discourses.

This paper is driven by an enquiry into how the meaning of an anthropological photograph changes when it is recontextualized as an artwork and encountered in a gallery. Beginning in 1988, the year Australia celebrated the bicentenary of the arrival of the First Fleet, Foley re-imagined the portrait of the Badtjala woman in a number of photomedia installations that mobilized a more interrogative engagement with the portrait. Her project culminated in several performative echoes of the portrait in which Foley engages the politics of self-representation to assert cultural continuity in a rebuff to fatal impact narratives. In this series of photographs Foley stages an encounter between history and its Other to subvert the colonial paradigm and expand the visual vocabulary used to depict Badtjala people. Throughout this body of work, Foley draws upon the photograph's indexical fidelity to cast a critical spotlight on the past and install an emotional tone to remembering.

The Artist as Ethnographer? Contemporary indigenous artwork-interventions from New Zealand in ethnographic perspective

Author: Elizabeth Cory-Pearce email

Short Abstract

This paper compares recent indigenous photo-based artworks that draw on colonial photographs with the understandings I have gained from long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the Rotorua region of New Zealand about the relationship between Te Arawa Maori and the colonial camera.

Long Abstract

Where colonial photography of indigenous peoples is negatively objectifying, it makes sense that artists' interventions seek to critically reclaim such representations of their forebears. However, in the Rotorua region of New Zealand, Te Arawa Maori collect and display large numbers of colonial photographs for personal and ritual use, and do not on the whole consider this material to be degrading. In fact many images are highly personalised and their frequent familial and ritual use suggests they are aesthetically satisfying. Colonial imagery of Te Arawa - which has been both commercially (in Rotorua's tourism industry) and spiritually (in Maori funerals and other ceremonies) significant since its inception - does not in this sense need to be 'critically reclaimed'. In fact critical interventions may, inadvertently, silence or at least side-line other accounts. The Rotorua region is distinguished by geothermal activity and, from the onset of colonialism, this stimulated economic and touristic interest. Maori were quick to develop tourism-related industries and photography played a key role in maintaining a foothold in them, especially when geothermal lands were removed from Maori ownership on a large scale. My research explores the particular nature of the relationship between Maori subjects, Maori audiences and the camera here. I highlight divergences between critical re-appropriations in recent indigenous artwork and local perceptions and uses of colonial photography. My insights combine data derived from long-term fieldwork with research on archival material and my paper stresses the importance of combining these two approaches.

Reclaiming historical images from the archive, or not? Artists and Aboriginal cultural protocol

Author: Marianne Riphagen (Australian National University, Canberra) email

Short Abstract

This paper examines alleged breaches of Aboriginal cultural protocol that result from contemporary artists' engagements with historical images depicting Indigenous Australians.

Long Abstract

In Australia, visual artists have incorporated and referenced historical images of Aboriginal people in contemporary artworks for at least two decades. Their use of still and moving images from the past, sourced from national and international archives and coffee table books, commonly serves to critique and deconstruct the 'raw histories' (Edwards 2001) signified by such historical pictures. Whilst artists such as r e a, Brook Andrew, Alan Cruickshank and Helen Johnson have attempted to destabilise colonial representational regimes and create an alternative presence for the Aboriginal subjects originally depicted, their contemporary works have evoked criticism. In this paper, I focus on the critique that these artists' use of historical images depicting Indigenous Australians constitutes a breach of Aboriginal cultural protocol. In particular, I examine how artists of Aboriginal background make use of the rules and principles encompassed by Indigenous cultural protocol to manage the act of reclaiming imagery from the past. My analysis of two protocol incidents, both of which resulted in the withdrawal of (part of) an artwork from exhibition, will demonstrate the complexity of ethical engagements with historical images of Aboriginal Australians and address the role of Aboriginal agency within such engagements.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.