History of Art and Architecture

Henry Skerritt Colloquium


Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

Is Art History Any Use to Aboriginal Artists? Art Historical Reflexivity and the Politics of Representation in Gabriel Maralngurra’s “Contact Paintings”

Henry Skerritt, PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture

Between 2002 and 2006, the Kunwinjku artist Gabriel Maralngurra produced a series of paintings depicting historical moments of contact between Kunwinjku people and the anthropologists who visited Gunbalanya in Australia’s Northern Territory during the early decades of the 20th century. These pivotal moments of encounter marked the Kunwinjku’s first engagement with the art market. Utilizing a wide range of different Kunwinjku painting modes (traditional and contemporary, secular and ceremonial), I argue that Maralngurra’s paintings use art historical reflexivity to comment critically upon the nature of Indigenous self-representation. By asserting the intercultural possibilities of contemporary art, while drawing attention to the limits of this dialogic process, Maralngurra uses the intersection opened by contemporary art to reframe indigeneity in ways that mirror the hierarchies of knowledge transfer embedded in Kunwinjku ceremonial structures. In doing so, they offer new ways to consider indigeneity beyond the essentialising paradigms of authenticity, while suggesting strategies for an intercultural Kunwinjku art history.  

Image: Gabriel Maralngurra
(Kunwinjku. Born 1968, Kunbarlanja, Australia)
Baldwin Spencer Buying Artefacts at Oenpelli in 1912
Natural pigments and synthetic binder on paper
76 x 102 cm
Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria