Collections of material culture from Aboriginal Australia remain largely inaccessible to those with Ancestral claims to them. We explore how Aboriginal artists are mobilizing collections to reconnect with culture, making and asserting their own representations in contemporary social contexts.
The proposed roundtable aims to advance understandings of Aboriginal Australian (re)connections with artefacts held in public collections as a contemporary form of cultural production. Artists are central to these processes, taking up museum objects, digital media, and archival research in innovative ways, to assert their cultural knowledge and support community wellbeing. These practices and their resulting works "speak back" to colonial histories of dispossession, disrupting conventional museum practices of representation, producing work that reveals the continuities of culture and exemplifying how culture is made and re-made as a reflection of creative, collaborative and forward-looking processes. Artist Maree Clarke (Wemba Wemba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung/Wadi Wadi), who creates work in multiple media (photography, body adornment, video production), will discuss her research with objects held in museum collections, alongside her reimagining of these in her art practice. Her work contests the legacies of colonisation in a region where Aboriginality is too-often assumed inauthentic. Curator Lindy Allen will speak to museums' responsibility in facilitating Indigenous access in dynamic, culturally-appropriate ways; anthropologist/social researcher Fran Edmonds will explore the creative uptake of digital technologies and intergenerational knowledge exchange that is facilitating new engagements with collections; medical anthropologist Richard Chenhall will comment on how these processes are crucial to identity and community wellbeing; and cultural anthropologist Sabra Thorner will propose strategies of co-research with Aboriginal artists and community members. Together, we are collectively grappling with and seeking to enact decolonising approaches in the representation(s) of Aboriginal people in museums and art-worlds in Australia and beyond.