Accepted Paper:

Formed and forming — the articulations of Yolngu art in its contexts  


Howard Morphy (Australian National University)

Paper short abstract:

Paper long abstract:

Art as a body of practice articulates with many other areas of society, including institutions such as kinship or class, systems of production such as the economy, and with religious belief systems. I use the concept of relative autonomy to examine the various ways in which Yolngu art practice articulates with other aspects of Yolngu society. Yolngu art is both multiply determined and influenced by the nature of its articulation, yet at the same time relatively autonomous as a system of practice — it is both formed and forming. Colonial contexts disrupt existing trajectories of articulation between relatively autonomous domains and require adjustments to be made that can ramify in unpredictable ways. Yolngu people have produced art in different contexts throughout the entire colonial period and engaged strongly with global art markets. The engagement has been continuous and from a Yolngu perspective surprisingly uncontentious — surprising because the theoretical discourse in which Indigenous art is often framed anticipates controversy and failure. Research perspectives that position Indigenous art as a particular kind of unitary object often operate as a kind of cultural critique rather than providing a framework for understanding: in some cases concepts of appropriation, authenticity, even spirituality, are used to position the object either as an alien or as a western artefact. I will argue that the recent trajectory of Yolngu art can only be understood when art is approached as a mode of action and associated body of practice that articulates with many different contexts, rather than as a particular kind of object.

Panel Plen2
Howard Morphy