Accepted Paper:

The Photograph as Archive: Crafting Contemporary Koorie Culture  

Author:

Sabra Thorner (Mount Holyoke College)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines relationships between archival photography, historical artifacts, and contemporary art practice. Focusing on Aboriginal Australian artist Maree Clarke's kangaroo-teeth necklace-making, I emphasize collaborative/decolonizing approaches to representation in museum- and artworlds.

Paper long abstract:

In 2008, an Aboriginal Australian artist based in Melbourne, Australia, Maree Clarke, created a kangaroo-teeth necklace, revivifying an art/cultural practice for the first time in over a century. She was inspired to do so after viewing an 1880 photograph of an ancestor wearing such adornment, and conducting object-based research on the extant pre-contact necklaces held by the Melbourne Museum (and later, around the world). This presentation brings these three things—archival photograph, historical artifacts, and contemporary art praxis—into the same analytical frame. I consider the photograph as itself an archive, reproduced in various media and taken up in multiple trajectories of knowledge production about Aboriginal people; an index of social relations of the past, exemplifying complex contact histories; and an impetus to new creative expression, including repetition, experimentation/innovation, and performance/re-enactment.

In an urban context in which Aboriginality has too-long been ignored and/or marginalized, Clarke's work is the work of culture-making: asserting continuity between self, ancestors, and descendants; the embeddedness of people in place; and the tangible connections between past, present, and future. At the same time, her practice is also profoundly interconnected with (and reliant upon) non-Aboriginal collaborators—curators, collections managers, gallery owners, anthropologists and other researchers, technical specialists—and provides a model for intercultural/decolonizing production and representation in museums and artworlds in Australia and beyond.

Panel P010
Australian Aboriginal artists, the archive and cross-cultural collaborations