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Colonialism in Australia

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Submitted By Kierankierank
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In the second half of the 20th century, after two centuries of colonial oppression and assimilation policies in Australian history, political and social break thoughts of aboriginal people in to the dominant European culture was bought to an end, thus enabling Aboriginal Artists to have the freedom to express their traditions, culture and identity. According to Oxford Art Online, the Simultaneous explosions of the Australian art market in the 1990s, gained international recognition for Aboriginal Art that emerged into the contemporary Aboriginal art that appealed to White Australia's conflicting a desire for cultural reconciliation.

The recognition of artistic production in Aboriginal communities across Australia enabled artists to explore themes of cultural alienation. The first wave of contemporary Aboriginal painters including Clifford Possum, Rover Thomas, Paddy Bedford and Emily Kame Kngwarreye, utilized repertoires of dots, blocks of color, with stimulating negative spaces or gestural brushstrokes to evoke the sense of a sacred, collective 'knowledge'. Collectors and museums began to actively collect contemporary Aboriginal works, whose conceptual paintings reinterpreted Australian colonial history.

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Today Aboriginal Australians are producing art in the remote regions where artists continue to explore their connections with their ancestral land and traditions of ground designs, body art, painted canvases, and bark paintings using contemporary materials. The practice of art is seen differently by indigenous art-makers than their contemporary artist counterparts; the works themselves often have a lot in common with much contemporary artwork, particularly with conceptual, installation and issues-based art. However, in early times, art had a different function than the modern ideas of self-expression or decoration; created with spiritual and hunting/survival purposes in mind. The identity of the individual artist/maker of cave paintings, masks and other traditional art forms was not as significant as it is today. Still, the traditional art objects perceived today also as a work of art, and valued for its aesthetic qualities. In addition, they are exploring contemporary art forms such as photography, film, multimedia, theatre, sculpture, printmaking, and installation.

Artists such as Tracey Moffat, (b.1960), Fiona Foley, (b.1964), and Gordon Bennett (b.1955), whom consider indigenous art as a way to express political and social issues in new forms of contemporary media, reflects unique perspectives of a distinctive experiences. Whilst their art proclaims aboriginal identity, it often acts as a medium for cultural renewal, operating beyond the classical idioms, conforming to the inspiration from aboriginal practices and European, and other visual language and techniques.

As, written in Wally Caruana's book, Aboriginal Art, chapter 6, Artists in the Town and City:

"In the second half of the twentieth century, as the movements for the recognition of aboriginal rights gained momentum, urban and rural artists found compelling reasons to produce art. Aboriginal people required imagery and symbols with which to express their ideals and inspirations. These issues of dispossession, broken families, racism-the secret history of Australia- and an intensifying of the sense of cultural identity provided strong motivation, and these themes are all apart of the repertoire of artists.

For instance, works by aboriginal instillation and mixed media artist Fiona Foley, from Harvey Bay, Frazer Island, engages with the history, ideas, family tradition from her cultural heritage from the Wondunna clan of Badtjala tribe from her mother's side, and her work reflects the remembrance of colonial oppression, the colonized vision of Australia and her ancestors.

Foleys work deals with the issues of displacement and dispossession of land, the people and some of her work is highly political, committing herself to the history of Aboriginal people and represents racism and violence and identity, and raises issues from a historic and contemporary cultural view. (http://eprints.utas.edu.au/2644/6/part5, (Morphy, Illus 260, 273).

'Annihilation of the blacks' (1986), is a frightening sculptural installation which is a part of the permanent collection of the Australian National Gallery (Caruana, 1993).The work represents the massacre of the disturbing treatment of Aboriginal people by the colonizers; the work consists of a white figure standing in front of 9 hanging black figures. The upright forked posts and cross poles are a powerful symbolic medium in traditionally-oriented Aboriginal communities for shelters and homes (Reser, 1977b).

It is also a sacred complex and symbol for the first residence of the Wagilak in Arnhem Land, which represents the Kunapipi ceremony (Berndt, 1951). Also within the young Aboriginal boys waiting to be born again, as young men, are viewed metaphorically as flying foxes, hanging from the beam, it is said that the flying fox ancestral spirits brought circumcision to the central Arnhem Land clans and because the flying fox is a central totemic species to clans in this region.

Fiona Foley often draws inspiration from traditional Aboriginal culture and life, while making powerful and contemporary political statements. All of this gives the sculpture a very strong traditional as well as contemporary symbolic quality, with multiple and intertwined meanings and messages

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