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Cultural Sociology

http://cus.sagepub.com/ The Art/Ethnography Binary: Post-Colonial Tensions within the Field of Australian Aboriginal Art
Laura Fisher Cultural Sociology 2012 6: 251 DOI: 10.1177/1749975512440224 The online version of this article can be found at: http://cus.sagepub.com/content/6/2/251

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CUS6210.1177/1749975512440224FisherCultural Sociology

Article

The Art/Ethnography Binary:Post-Colonial Tensions within the Field of Australian Aboriginal Art
Laura Fisher

Cultural Sociology 6(2) 251270 The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1749975512440224 cus.sagepub.com

University of New South Wales, Australia

Abstract
An Art/Ethnography binary informs a range of discursive engagements with Australian Aboriginal art. Ethnography is usually associated with colonialism, primitivism and regarded as circumscribing the art, while Art is posited as unequivocally progressive and good. This article will discuss the activities of various Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors in the Aboriginal art world, and explore the way the Art/Ethnography binarys reiteration by these actors instantiates the way this field is shaped by the tensions that arise from Australias condition as a settler state with a marginalized Indigenous population. It will show that the trope of Art versus Ethnography has a multifaceted operative power that reflects remote and urban Aboriginal artists differential participation within the field, and the complex relationship between two objectives that politicize it: the desire for recognition on the part of Indigenous actors, and the desire for post-colonial redemption on the part of non-Indigenous actors.

Keywords
Aboriginal/Indigenous art, art discourse, ethnography, Indigenous activism, post-colonialism, sociology of art, post-colonial, Australian . . . our exhibitions convey a progressive attitude towards current contemporary art practices striving for dynamic combinations often involving both black and white perspectives. With respect to Aboriginal culture, Fire-Works places a strong emphasis on the contemporary rather than the ethnographic. (Fireworks Gallery, 2007)

Introduction
Australian Aboriginal art is popularly described as having journeyed from Ethnography to Art.1 This narrative implies that forms of Aboriginal cultural production that were

Corresponding author: Laura Fisher, School of Social Sciences, University of NSW, Sydney, Australia. Email: l.fisher@unsw.edu.au

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once only of interest to anthropologists who sought a greater understanding of Indigenous society have finally acquired the same exalted status as Art produced and exhibited within the Western gallery system. While this may be historically true, the Art/ Ethnography binary, or the anti-Anthropology stance, that has become a motif of recent Aboriginal art discourses reflects a far more complex contestation of discourses, identities and aspirations than this account suggests. This article will discuss the colonial and institutional conflicts that are the reference points of its articulation, and consider the way the art worlds differentiation of urban and remote Aboriginal artists has contributed to its formation. It will argue that this opposition has a multifaceted operative power that has been shaped by Indigenous peoples struggles for empowerment both within the state and within the art world and by the responses of non-Indigenous people to those struggles. Indeed, the very realm of Art, and the very identity of Artist have come to be politicized and treated as sites of Indigenous activism and advocacy in the Aboriginal art world. As will be discussed, Art has become a domain within which the marginalization and oppression Indigenous people experience in Australian society can be confronted and combated, and where individual and collective forms of emancipation and recognition can be pursued. Drawing on Bourdieus theory of the field of cultural production and Habermass literary public sphere thesis, this article seeks to analyse the way the moral questions that arise from Australias condition as a settler state with a marginalized Indigenous population are refracted through the Aboriginal art world. As it appears that the shared territory between Aboriginal artists from remote and urban areas of Australia is being undermined by the salience of this opposition, the article will conclude by proposing that, should ethnographic methodologies be re-evaluated more positively, the scope and efficacy of the Indigenous aesthetic public sphere may be enhanced. By drawing on such concepts and offering this critique, this article builds on the rich but still small body of interrogative literature that has explored the complexity of the Aboriginal art movement and market (see for example Foley, 2006; Johnson, 2001; McLean, 1998; Michaels, 1994; Morphy, 2008; Myers, 2002; Thomas, 1999).

The Aboriginal Art Movement


The Aboriginal art world encompasses an extremely diverse body of creative practices. To understand the reasons for the eclecticism of the category of Aboriginal art it is necessary to outline the pre-colonial foundations of Indigenous expressive forms, and to bring the uneven history of colonialism in Australia to bear upon the current forms of Aboriginal art.2 Prior to colonization, a highly complex visual language, in conjunction with song, dance and performance, articulated and affirmed totemic identities, ancestral histories, and the moral infrastructure of Indigenous society. These forms narrated the Dreaming, a temporally unbounded body of religious knowledge that explains the origin of all life, constitutes the natural environment as the embodiment of the essence of creation beings, and dictates peoples obligations to care for the land.3 Indigenous people were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers with ties to strictly differentiated areas of land (there were hundreds of linguistically distinct nations), and the practical matters of survival were founded in an inalienable familial, moral and legal order (Sutton, 1988).

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The first British colonies were established in the south-east of the continent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and many Indigenous nations in these areas were wholly or partially destroyed by frontier warfare, disease and the depletion of food sources. Vast areas of the desert interior and the northern tropics remained relatively free of European settlement well into the 20th century. From the early 19th century up until the 1970s, policies of racial segregation and assimilation were instituted throughout Australia, which often involved the forced removal of entire communities from traditional lands to centralized missions and towns, and the removal of Indigenous children from their families to be placed with white carers or in institutions. A web of intrusive and often punitive state control sought to expunge all language and cultural knowledge from these wards of state, with the ideal that Indigenous people of mixed ancestry would eventually blend in with the white population (Haebich, 2000; McGrath, 1995). From the first decades of settlement, pastoralists, government officials, navy and army servicemen, naturalists, anthropologists, museum collectors and travellers acquired cultural objects from Indigenous people, sometimes by trading them for tobacco and other goods (Jones, 1988; Taon and Davies, 2004). At the mission stations, Indigenous wards were often encouraged to produce artefacts, paintings on bark, curios and small craft and textile items decorated with Indigenous motifs to be sold in the larger towns, usually to raise money for the settlements (Kleinert, 2002; Moore, 2006). When the Whitlam Labour government introduced its self-determination policy in 1972, Indigenous people in remote regions were encouraged to return to their traditional lands, a move made possible by welfare support. This outstations movement, along with other initiatives such as the formation of the Aboriginal Arts Board and a Land Rights commission (both in 1973), instigated a cultural renaissance spearheaded by visual arts practice (Altman, 2005a: 4). In 1972, the Papunya Tula Artists Cooperative was founded by Aboriginal men in the government settlement of Papunya, a settlement which had been established in 1959 to administer a number of central desert tribes. Members of the Cooperative began producing saleable acrylic paintings of their Dreamings, drawn in part from sacred sand and body paintings. In the following decades, art production spread to other parts of the desert (and was taken up by women), while the bark painting tradition flourished in Arnhem Land. During the 1970s and early 1980s, two government bodies, the Aboriginal Arts Board, and Aboriginal Arts and Crafts Pty Ltd, facilitated the sale and exhibition of Aboriginal artworks, and underwrote the fledgling art centres (Johnson, 2007; Peterson, 1983). The art currently produced in remote regions of Australia usually has continuity with forms of pre-colonial cultural production such as body and sand painting, painting on rock walls and the interior of bark shelters, carved wooden tools, weapons, decorated sacred objects and woven objects (Sutton, 1988). Aboriginal artists from urban and nonremote regions of Australia are more engaged with Western art forms and genres (some are art-school graduates), though they may also maintain, reclaim and reinterpret historical practices. Thus Aboriginal art today encompasses painting with acrylics and natural ochres on canvas and linen; paintings on bark; locally specific art forms such as pearl shell and emu egg carvings, possum-skin cloaks, hollow log coffins and carved or woven spirit figures; and fine crafts which include shell necklaces, painted ceramics, and various forms of fibre art. Printmaking and fabric design have been introduced in a number

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of communities, while many urban Aboriginal artists work with photography, digital technologies, video and installation. Didgeridoos and other musical and craft items continue to be widely circulated within the tourism market (though not always produced by Indigenous people), while historic artefacts are increasingly valued on the auction market (Kleinert and Neale, 2000). Currently there are approximately 100 Aboriginal art centres that facilitate art production across the country, usually located in remote areas. Modelled to some degree on Papunya Tula Artists, these are usually artists cooperatives with a communal structure, managed by art centre-coordinators employed by the artists. The coordinator (in almost all cases a non-Indigenous person) mediates between the artists domain and the demands of the international art market. Many artists also sell directly to dealers, wholesalers and other intermediaries who visit the artists or are based in centres such as Alice Springs, the largest town in central Australia with a large, transient Indigenous population (Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, 2007). Aboriginal art entered a contemporary art paradigm following the inclusion of artists from Papunya and Arnhem Land in exhibitions such as the 1979 Sydney Biennale and the 1981 and 1983 Australian Perspectas, and the acquisition of Aboriginal artworks by state galleries in the 1980s (Caruana, 2003; Murphy, 1981, 1983). At this time, Aboriginal artists from urban areas also began forming collectives and exhibiting, as will be outlined below. In the mid-1990s, Sothebys began staging exclusive Aboriginal art auctions, cementing the arts place in the Australian fine arts market. Auction houses monopolize the secondary market for Aboriginal art, and the record prices achieved for Aboriginal artworks are fast encroaching upon those achieved for non-Indigenous Australian works, due in part to the interest of overseas collectors (Australian Art Sales Digest, 2008). State art galleries now have Aboriginal art on permanent display with dedicated departments and curators, and major exhibitions of regional styles and individual artists have taken place since the 1980s. Key overseas exhibitions that attracted serious collecting interest include Dreamings, which toured North America in 19881989 (Sutton, 1988), and Aratjara, which toured European Art Museums in 19931994 (Weeks, Hilty and Hauffe, 1993). There are now over 300 vendors of Aboriginal art in Australia, ranging from tourist-oriented retailers to dealers of Aboriginal Fine Art. Aboriginal art comprises approximately 15 per cent of artworks sold by Australian auction houses and commercial galleries annually, and the annual value of Aboriginal fine art has grown from $2.5 million in 1980 to current estimates of $100$300 million (Altman, 2005a: 8; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001). Having sketched the field in question, a final point to be made is that while the category of Aboriginal art is remarkably heterogeneous, there is a clear differentiation between Aboriginal art produced in remote regions of Australia on the one hand (that is, the desert areas and the tropical regions and islands of Northern Australia) and the towns and cities of urban and rural Australia on the other. As the outline above makes clear, this differentiation reflects the consequences of Australias colonization process. Yet the category of Aboriginal art withstands this polarity because prominent actors and discourses within the art world vigorously affirm an Indigenous/non-Indigenous, or black/white opposition, and foreground the artists status of having Indigenous heritage, and having

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survived the destructive/assimilationist colonial project. This is clearly demonstrated in the establishment in 2007 of an inclusive Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia, the first of which was titled Culture Warriors. As we will see, the political implications of the urban/remote distinction, and the efforts to dissolve that distinction by advocating the legitimacy of all Aboriginal art forms, are highly salient to the rhetorical weight of the Art/Ethnography binary within this field.

The Art/Ethnography Binary


Before we examine some examples of the Art/Ethnography4 binary, let us first get a sense of what is generally meant by this opposition. Ethnography in this context refers to the way tribal artefacts were displayed in natural history museums in the 19th and early 20th centuries, in which a prevailing evolutionist perspective presented the Aboriginal race as primitive and approaching extinction. Cultural objects were displayed as self-evidently illustrative of these assumptions and their worth rested in their revelation of the practices of a past culture. The primary focus of an ethnographic framework is seen to be the way cultural traditions are encoded in an object, which means that objects are presented as authentic exemplars of a generalized community practice, and tradition is regarded as having strictly determined the character of community members creative output (Jones, 1988: 156158; Mulvaney, 1982/1983; Zolberg, 1997: 57). Art, on the other hand, designates a heroically personal, subjective, and non-utilitarian expression of creativity (Ames, 1991: 7). Accordingly, innovation and the forging of unique styles of expression are highly valued and individual artworks can be celebrated for their artistic merit regardless of the conditions of their production or the identity of their makers. These contrasting modes of engagement are invoked in the following instances of the Art/Ethnography opposition, drawn mainly from non-Indigenous authors writing in leading Australian newspapers: Art writer Miriam Cosic states that [John] Mawurndjul is one of the stars of the Maningrida Art movement: a magisterial painter of Kuninjku Dreaming and an individualist whose genius has helped move indigenous art out of ethnography and into the contemporary mainstream (Cosic, 2004a). In another article, Cosic writes that the art dealer Gabriella Pizzi was one of the first dealers to take indigenous art out of the ethnographic ghetto and promote it as an intellectual and spiritual force in contemporary culture (Cosic, 2004b). Curator Judith Ryan writes that The best Aboriginal works are no longer trapped in an ethnographic category but possess a unique aesthetic aura born of truth (Ryan, 2006). In Susan Owens article Its about the art not the ethnography, occasioned by the establishment of a new Aboriginal art dealership in Paris, gallerist Mary Durack is quoted as saying Aboriginal art has an ethnographic label in Europe . . . I want to break the constant references to anthropology and history. Its a significant contemporary art movement (Owens, 2006). Finally, in Nicolas Rothwells review of John Mawurndjuls retrospective in Basel, he applauds what he regards as the artists rejection of imagery that is appealing because it persuade[s] the viewer that it brings them near the heart of something sacred (Rothwell, 2006: 2) in favour of designs whose spiritual derivation is unintelligible to Western audiences, that is, reducible to decoration. He argues that:

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Mawurndjul and his fellow masters of North Australian Aboriginal art are thus staking a claim to be regarded as artists without adjectives, contemporary painters who just happen to be from a particular cultural background. This momentous decision on their part goes some way towards dethroning anthropology as the key litmus of indigenous art and may yet herald the beginning of a legitimate school of critical appreciation of Aboriginal painting. (Rothwell, 2006: 12)

Here, Rothwell suggests an intriguing chain of causality: only when the artists adjust their practice to a Western-contemporary idiom can anthropology be jettisoned and real art criticism become possible. It is also worth noting that Rothwells and Cosics remarks about Mawurndjul posit individualism as the condition of his arts contemporaneity, an approach that presents the ethnographic focus on community and context as a foil to the avant-garde motif of the break with tradition. These statements bear a great deal of truth. Many of the first forms of Aboriginal cultural production that attracted the interest of Europeans were indeed collected by anthropologists and presented in museums as historical artefacts. And as Duracks statement implies, Europeans came into contact with forms of Other material culture as indices of conquest and empire, and often remain resistant to placing non-Western art in the same category as European/American art.5 It is also the case that the recognition of Aboriginal art as Art depended upon the efforts of people like Gabrielle Pizzi. As late as 1997, Pizzi was rejected in her bid to bring Aboriginal artworks to the Basel Art Fair, because the selection committee felt that letting in recognisably indigenous works from Australia would open the floodgates to Primitive, Tribal and Folk art from all around the world (Throsby, 1997: 32). The snub is indicative of the obstacles dealers had to overcome in cultivating a market for Aboriginal art. Indeed, 20th-century Aboriginal art from remote areas occupied an institutional no-mans land for a number of years, not easily encompassed by ethnographic or aesthetic perspectives, nor deemed collectible by either museums or galleries. Johnson, referring to the decade following the establishment of Papunya Tula in 1972, writes of the ten years of neglect and dismissal which preceded the breakthrough of Western Desert paintings onto the Australian, and now the international, art scene (Johnson, 1991: 19):
These paintings were seen, at best, as anthropological curios, at worst, as tourist kitsch. Over the same period, the museums (with some notable exceptions) also declined to collect them on the grounds that they were non-traditional that is, ethnographically speaking, unauthentic. This judgment showed at least a finer appreciation than that of the art experts of the quality of innovation in these paintings. (Johnson, 1991: 19)

In 1980, when Johnson and her husband offered paintings that they had acquired in Papunya to the National Gallery of Australia, they were rebuffed with the claim weve got one of those (Johnson, 2007: 39, 41 [footnote 43]). In 1977, the Australian Trade Commissioner in New York rejected Aboriginal Arts and Crafts Pty Ltds bid to introduce Arnhem Land artworks into the American market, on the basis that works produced for sale were regarded by museum directors to be inauthentic and thus not able to be assimilated by the Primitive art market (Morphy, 1994: 214215). Such exclusions reveal the way institutions negotiate the identities of the objects under their care, and define the ambit of their patronage in contradistinction to other institutions (see Karp and Lavine, 1991). Authenticity is the key fault-line in this context, around

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which perceptions about pre- and post-colonial activity, commercial/non-commercial production, and the sincerity of artistic intent coalesce. While bark paintings certainly had a greater monopoly on authenticity in the 1970s and 1980s, the fact that both the Arnhem Land barks and Desert acrylic artworks were produced for sale meant that they were not deemed suitable for museum collections. This stain of commercialism also meant that they could not be consecrated as Art in the way outsider art forms such as Primitive art and Asylum art had been, on the basis of the belief that such art objects were produced by inner necessity, for unique psychological or cultural reasons (see Bowler, 1997: 2829). In light of these historical fluctuations and inconsistencies, the term Ethnography in this binary can be seen to have only a tenuous relation to ethnography as a research methodology, or anthropology as a discipline. Rather, it emerges as a rather sloppy referent for not Art. Indeed, the Ethnography to Art narrative does not take account of the fact that anthropologists such as AP Elkin, Frederick McCarthy and Charles Mountford promoted Aboriginal art as Art from the early years of the 20th century, straying far from conventional ethnographic preoccupations in their advocacy and befriended and collaborating with non-Indigenous modernists to bring it to the attention of Australian art audiences (see Jones, 1988; Kleinert, 2002; Kupka, 1965, for this history).6 In recent years, anthropologists such as Eric Michaels, Fred Myers, Marcia Langton, Howard Morphy, Christine Nicholls and Jon Altman have participated in the field of Aboriginal art as curators, artists representatives, translators, and as writers of catalogue essays, art criticism and art historical pieces in art journals (see for example Altman, 2005b; Nicholls, 2006). Therefore the question must be asked: why is the Art/Ethnography binary invoked so often, or an anti-Anthropology stance adopted so readily, when anthropologists have been integral to Aboriginal arts emergence as High Art?

The Amalgamation of Two Conflicts


Arguably, the answer lies in the tense disciplinary relationship that has existed between Anthropology and Art history/theory, and in the fact that Anthropology is an intellectual and institutional practice irrevocably associated with colonialism. With respect to the former, there is a long-standing conflict between formalist-aesthetic interpretations of cultural objects and the interpretations offered by anthropologists of art. Losche (1999) presents a valuable perspective on the entrenched disciplinary antagonisms that underpin the conflict. In her attempt to write a book about the relationship between art and anthropology, she found that:
[T]raversing cultures (for example an anthropologist who goes to place x, or an art historian who investigates time y) is a less complex experience, and easier to encode, than traversing disciplines. What I mean here is that, as long as one assumes that there is a coherent body of work called anthropology and art history one can proceed to place ones material into that edifice of ideas. If, however, one questions the boundaries and outlines of those objects that are constituted by traditional disciplines, one is in problematic territory. (Losche, 1999: 211)

As Losche (1999: 212) suggests, the key tension between the disciplines is that the former promotes the idea of the autonomy of art, both in terms of the purpose of its

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production and the viewers experience of its aesthetic qualities, while the latter objects to the idea that any sphere of human life is discrete from others.7 Furthermore, as Morphy and Perkins (2006: 5) write, a tension remains between the avant-garde view that art speaks for itself and is open to universalistic interpretation, and an anthropological perspective, which requires an indigenous interpretative context. Though much more can be said, this is an adequate explanation of the first of the conflicts with which Anthropology is engaged. The second conflict revolves around perceptions about Anthropologys complicity with colonial domination and exploitation. The discourses, images and museum displays produced by anthropologists during the 19th and early 20th centuries provide disturbing evidence of the way Indigenous people were conceived of and treated by colonial power in Australia. Through their provision of scientific explanations for the peculiarity and inferiority of the race in evolutionary terms, anthropologists and associated researchers helped to rationalize the policies to which Indigenous Australians were subjected (B. Anderson, 2002; I. Anderson, 2003; Mulvaney, 1982/1983). Furthermore, only certain types of Indigenous subjects and cultural objects were considered worthy of anthropological attention. There was (and to some degree still is) a strong disciplinary bias towards communities that could be regarded as pure, untouched by Western modernity, a favouring which entailed a deauthentication of the Indigenous identity of Aboriginal people from the south-eastern rural and urban regions who had mixed ancestry and whose communities had suffered colonization most intensively (Moreton-Robinson, 2006: 219; Russell, 2001: 12). For these reasons, anthropology as a discipline, and ethnography as a practice, have long been treated with suspicion by Indigenous people. These two conflicts go some way towards explaining the naturalization of this opposition in Aboriginal art discourses. An apprehension of the second conflict, such that one can express ones abhorrence of the forces of colonialism by repudiating Anthropology, establishes a reactive dynamic whereby Art, which stands in opposition to Anthropology for other reasons, becomes a progressive space of recognition and encompassment.

Political and Artistic Activism and the Rejection of Ethnography


However, the Art/Ethnography binarys traction is also the result of the activities of the Aboriginal artists and activists from the south-east and urban regions of Australia. By the 1960s, a political movement founded on a sense of shared oppression amongst Indigenous people nationwide had consolidated itself. Responding to racism, land dispossession, government discrimination and neglect, and inspired by emancipatory movements overseas, Indigenous people from urban and rural areas organized large-scale protests that garnered popular support and fostered political will to bring about legislative changes. In some cases urban-based activists built relationships and acted alongside people from remote regions, but in other cases they engaged the state, in the nations capital and in other urban centres, on behalf of all Indigenous Australians. An outcome of this activism was that, as McLean writes: Indigeneity (or Aboriginality as it was then called) became a legitimate identity forged primarily by the experience of colonial dispossession (McLean, 2002: 35). Despite the fact that Indigenous people comprise only 2.4 per cent

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of the Australian population, since the early 1970s this national Indigenous identity has had a robust political presence, enhanced by the responsiveness of some quarters of nonIndigenous Australian and international society. The increased institutional recognition of the burgeoning Aboriginal art movement in the following decades can in part be attributed to the impact of this activism upon the consciousness of non-Indigenous public servants and professionals working within the arts in Australia and elsewhere. In 1982 the director of the Aboriginal Arts Board was Gary Foley and the committee chairman was Chika Dixon. These men were prominent Indigenous activists, and their involvement with the Board created the conditions for a strongly politicized Aboriginal creative arts movement.8 As Gary Foley writes:
Here was an example of the necessity of Indigenous people . . . regaining control of their own affairs and subverting the institutions that affected them. As such it was a continuation of the ideas and philosophies that had exploded in Australia during the late 1960s and early 1970s. (Foley, 2005: 185186; see also Katona, 2007: 3)

Of relevance here was the orchestration of Aratjara, an extremely successful exhibition of urban and remote Aboriginal art which toured in Europe in 1993/1994. Foley writes that Aratjara was born when a Swiss artist called Bernard Lthi approached the AAB in 1984 and expressed the view that Australian Indigenous art should be exhibited in the modern art galleries of Europe rather than the ethnographic museums where at that time they languished (Foley, 2005: 186, emphasis added; see also Lthi, 1993: 16). The subtitle of the exhibition was Art of the First Australians, and many of the catalogue essays bear the tone of political activism (Weeks et al., 1993). Some of the artists from urban regions included in this exhibition were, or have become, leading figures amongst a group of artists who produce politically confrontational work about colonization, racism and Indigenous marginalization. As Neale writes of their emergence in the 1980s, they were young, articulate and angry, fuelled by decades of dispossession and displacement (Neale, 2004: 487; see also Onus, 1993). Many of these artists have used archival material from museum collections, or appropriated ethnographic modes of seeing the subject, in order to deconstruct the way Indigenous identity has been imagined within settler society.9 They have also criticized anthropological discourses and institutional methods in other forums. This is because, in their affirmation of their Indigeneity an identity forged primarily by the experience of colonial dispossession they identify with those who were objectified by ethnographic study. However, it is also because they remain excluded (having lighter skin, having not had a traditional upbringing) from this particular valorizing system as inauthentic urban Indigenous people, an exclusion that is symbolic of their broader social experience of having the truth of their Indigenous identity constantly questioned (Thomas, 1999: 220). Thus artist Richard Bell, in a polemic that accompanied his work Scienta E metaphysica (Bells Theorum), or Aboriginal Art its a White Thing (2003), criticizes the Ethnographic approach to Aboriginal art that he suggests associates it with spirituality and the Dreamtime. He suggests that [m]any Urban artists have rejected the ethnoclassification of Aboriginal art to the extent that they dont participate in Aboriginal shows. They see themselves as artists not as Aboriginal artists (2002: 3, emphasis in original). Similarly, artist Brook Andrew argues that:

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Aboriginal art [is a label that] homogenizes the Aboriginal experience and does not allow for diverse autonomy in language, ceremony, design and expression, let alone other cultural and ancestral connections. I prefer my art to be thought of as works created by myself as an artist, not simply as Aboriginal art. (Minter and Andrew, 2005: 146)

Such positions imply that the Indigenous identity that is evoked by Aboriginal art, attributed by many to be a fetish for the ethnographic, invokes a hierarchy of legitimacy that subordinates artists from urban areas to such an extent that, in some cases, they would rather be located outside that paradigm altogether.

Ethnography and the Primitive


We can therefore begin to see how the spirit of post-colonial political struggle can underpin the rejection of Ethnography and the embracing of Art. It can be demonstrated more concretely by highlighting the fact that anti-Ethnography rhetoric frequently associates it with a primitivization of the Other subject, artist and/or art object. Primitivist conceptualizations essentialize and dehistoricize cultures and, as Thomas writes, entail a romanticisation and celebration of . . . communal simplicity, proximity to nature, esoteric ritual, mystical transgression and spirituality (Thomas, 1995: 15; see also Russell, 2001: 1114). Such notions are invoked when Richard Bell suggests that Aboriginal art from remote regions should be marketed by drawing on purely Western construct[s] and argues that we should [d]emand that it be seen for what it is as being among the Worlds best examples of Abstract Expressionism. Ditch the pretence of spirituality that consigns the art to ethnography . . . (Bell, 2002: 2, emphasis added; see also Minter and Andrew, 2005: 143).10 Similarly, at a Blakatak forum held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney,11 Brook Andrew censured art historian and curator Roger Benjamin for using the word artefact during his discussion of Aboriginal works. Andrews comment that when anyone . . . refers to Indigenous art or objects as artefacts I completely have a fit because artefacts are relics indicates that he feels the term constructs objects as deriving from an antiquated, rather than a living, culture (Blakatak, 2005: 24). The association of Ethnography with primitivism is also illustrated in art writer Jennifer Isaacs comment that:
[t]he word ethnographic was not uncommon in the 1970s but today would be used at a curators peril when presenting contemporary art from any Aboriginal movement or community. However, on the international stage, notions of antiquity, primordial human visual communication or cultural practices that extend through millennia constantly enter discourses indeed, they remain the entry point for significant international collectors. (2002: 549550)

This coupling of Ethnography with primitivism is significant because it is often argued that the success of remote Aboriginal art is attributable to a primitivist desire for the authentic Other within the West (Lattas, 2000; Webb, 2002).12 It is a persuasive argument, particularly as it is widely agreed that only a small proportion of remote Aboriginal art sold is of high quality (though the question of how to evaluate the quality of Aboriginal art is far from resolved), and therefore there must be some other explanation for the arts appeal. Critically, the argument helps to rationalize the disparities between

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urban and remote artists success as described above: the work of the former is less desirable because its makers exist outside the primitivism paradigm. When Ethnography is associated with primitivism it becomes implicated in this inequity, as the following statement from Neale regarding the marginalization of Aboriginal artists from south-eastern urban areas in the 1980s indicates: While those from the south remained outside the ethnographic gaze, invisibility was assured (Neale, 2004: 489; see also Croft, 2003). This inequity is symbolic of a poignant struggle for social recognition, and thus embracing Art as exclusive from and/or in defiance of Ethnography becomes a political act, a statement of opposition to primitivism and racism, and an injunction that diverse forms of Indigeneity be respected within wider society.

Political Aesthetic Public Spheres and the Field of Aboriginal art


These struggles for recognition modulate the Aboriginal art world in a number of ways, and I now wish to draw on Bourdieus theory of the field of cultural production, and Habermass literary public sphere thesis, to suggest that the Art/Ethnography binary is in fact a rhetorical artefact of art world actors negotiations of the political and moral issues that attend to Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations in Australia. Bourdieus notion of the artistic field comprises a range of actors: artists, dealers, critics, curators, as well as institutions, styles, genres and movements, who compete for cultural legitimacy while simultaneously contributing to a field-wide consensus regarding what is legitimate (Bourdieu, 1993: 3036). As I hope has become clear, within the Aboriginal art field, urban and remote Aboriginal artists occupy quite paradoxical actor-positions. While measures of commercial success, exhibition activity and the speed at which artistic forms acquire legitimacy will identify most urban Aboriginal artists as marginal within the field, if we look through the lens of actor participation, it is Aboriginal artists from remote areas who are marginal. These artists may attend gallery openings of their work and take an interest in other art during their exhibition-associated travels, and they sometimes meet with art collectors who visit remote Aboriginal art centres. Furthermore, the relationships they have with the non-Indigenous dealers and art centre coordinators who represent them involve shared understandings about which styles are popular with buyers, and occasional exposure to other art forms. Nevertheless, these artists do not have a sustained engagement with Western art, their arts content does not reflect deference to (or avant-gardist defiance of) a canon, and thus only rarely can it be suggested that remote Aboriginal artists participate in the domain of artistic position-takings within the field (Bourdieu, 1993: 30).13 Indeed, if we follow Bourdieus reading of the way nave French painter Le Douanier Rousseau was constituted by the artistic field in order for his paintings to be deemed Art, a remote Aboriginal artist can be regarded as a creator who has to be created as a legitimate producer, one whose art world trajectory depends to a large extent on how well he or she is produced by impresario figures such as pioneer Aboriginal art dealer Gabrielle Pizzi (Bourdieu, 1993: 61, 177, also 275 [footnote 38]). In contrast, artists such as Richard Bell and Brook Andrew, and activists such as Gary Foley, do participate in competitive position-taking within the field. Urban Aboriginal artists are often vocal, confrontational advocates and critics who participate in the arena

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of commentary and practice regarding representation, collecting and curating, augmenting the social critique expressed in their art which an art-literate viewer cannot ignore. Moreover, the political discourse and spirit generated by their institutional practice, activism and polemic have become dynamic and influential actors within the field, articulated by non-Indigenous commentators as well as Indigenous artists, curators and academics (see for example Blakatak, 2005; Croft, 2003; Foley, 2006; Mundine, 2005). The title of the first National Indigenous Triennial, Culture Warriors, captures this spirit in its evocation of defiance and resilience. Indeed, these activists, artists and intellectuals have, it could be argued, established a robust aesthetic public sphere. For Habermas, social arenas in which emerging aesthetic forms are shared and discussed have the potential to generate broader spheres in which individuals engage in dialogue regarding civic matters and thereby supervise the exercise of state power over the public (Habermas, 1974: 52). As Jones explains, the examples Habermas presents in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere are the London coffee houses and salons which in the 18th century became settings where members of the newly formed bourgeoisie critically debated literature, art and culture (2007b: 7678). Thus, discussions of aesthetic matters provides the associative fora which are capable of turning their concerns to matters of state (Jones, 2007a: 9). The committee of artists and activists on the Aboriginal Arts Board described above constituted a vital and consequential politicized aesthetic sphere, as have art collectives or cooperatives such as The Campfire Group, Boomalli and ProppaNOW, and events such as the Blakatak and Black2Blak14 forums. However, beyond these concrete examples of public spheres, it can be argued that urban Indigenous actors (and those non-Indigenous actors who support them) have treated the Art system as a surrogate state, a domain that can be radicalized and democratized and compelled to provide the Indigenous subject with the recognition that the actual state withholds. Richard Bells statement that: I came into art through politics . . . I discovered, as far as activism goes, theres no better forum than art may be interpreted in these terms (in Sorensen, 2006: 8). Urban Aboriginal artists have produced compelling and confronting work about Australian race relations, the colonial past, and the current marginalization of Indigenous Australians, and their aesthetic innovations compel a cultural elite to engage with such issues. Though it is a distortion to see this group in terms of Fourth world politics, Paines argument that much of Fourth world politics is about turning physical powerlessness into moral power and then putting that to good political account (in Ames, 1991: 9) points to the crux of the issue. These actors have, by the force of their political will, the intensity of their aesthetic forms and the moral power of their social critique, compelled art institutions and their attendant professionals and audiences to create a space for their art and their message.15 Therefore, the journey from Ethnography to Art emerges as a significant emancipation narrative when considered in light of the experience of urban Aboriginal artists, an aesthetic strand of a social movement that encompasses a colonized minority struggling for recognition as a distinct, surviving-but-changing entity. Many non-Indigenous actors within the art world feel morally culpable when faced with the artists grievances and objectives, and arguably this means that their competition for cultural legitimacy within the field of struggles (Bourdieu, 1993: 30) has come to have a significant moral component. The Art/Ethnography binary, or the anti-Anthropology stance, is a product of this

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predicament: it has become a rhetorical hook upon which non-Indigenous actors can secure their virtuous stance within the field.

The Art/Ethnography Binary and the Difficulty of Writing about Aboriginal Art
The manner in which such moral imperatives shape the activities of non-Indigenous actors is well illustrated in the domain of art writing. Remote Aboriginal art is often subject to quite superficial readings by art writers, or in Smiths words, reviews often [collapse]s into the telling of condescendingly simple stories of the work, alongside a few lines of formalist description, both carried by clouds of supportive sounds (Smith, 2002: 152). Much of the success of remote Aboriginal art has been achieved independently of art critical discourses (Benjamin, 2000; Webb, 2002: 138). This is partly due to the politicization of the field as explored above, such that the politics of speaking positions makes the field impossible for non-Indigenous critics, and few art writers are prepared to strongly criticize remote Aboriginal art forms (Smith, 2002: 152). However it is also due to the sui generis nature of remote forms. As Lowish points out regarding the insufficient coverage of Aboriginal art in Australian art history monographs: [m]uch of what is relevant to the discipline of art history does not correspond easily to the study of Aboriginal art, just as much that is vital to understanding the complexity of Aboriginal art . . . lies outside the reach of art history (Lowish, 2005: 63; see also Michaels, 1994; Thomas, 1999: 225). The following art-historical conventions have little purchase: locating artists within a sanctioned art-historical tradition and lineage of artists, attending to an artists biography and artistic trajectory, and outlining an epochal framework that contextualizes their work. For art writers to critically engage with remote Aboriginal art in a conceptually enlightening way, they would need to undertake detailed research into the artists milieu. Few art writers have done this, and indeed the expertise of anthropologists is often sought precisely because of their ethnographic practice: they have sustained relationships with artists and communities from remote regions, can converse with artists in their own language and thus act as translators and provide nuanced explanations of the art and, from the point of view of those artists, are trustworthy representatives within the art world. Despite this, few art writers draw on ethnographic material, and furthermore, as the popular examples quoted earlier demonstrate, they often adopt an oppositional stance towards Ethnography, affirming the disciplinary divide that Losche described. These art writers predominantly employ an Abstract Expressionist idiom in their discussions of remote Aboriginal art, as exemplified by the following quotations from broadsheet reviews. Georgina Safe, in her review of an exhibition of young Papunya Tula artists, writes: The Rockhole Site of Lupulnga, South of Kintore by Brenda Napaltjarri . . . is sublime and endlessly satisfying: a lyrical and intricate rendering of concentric circles connected by streams of creamy dots (Safe, 2004). Nicolas Rothwell writes that at the 2005 Desert Mob exhibition two brightly-hued, declarative works signal the arrival of Jimmy Donegan, an artist whose raw, urgent force-fields, superimposed on deep dotted grounds, bring to mind the example of the celebrated Spinifex artists from the southern borders of his country (Rothwell, 2005: 14). I would argue that there is a clear explanation for art writers reliance on such language, a language whose revered provenance is

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far removed from the artists actual practice. The conviction that the power of a painting depends upon the resolution of its internal, formal components in the artists unique way is an enduring aesthetic ideology of modernism and Abstract Expressionism in particular (Crane, 1987; Gombrich, 1966: 439445). The canonical weight of such ideas, associated with artists such as Henri Matisse (Spurling, 2000, 2006) and critics such as Clement Greenberg (1992), provides a refuge for art writers who are unable to formulate an aesthetic language that can illuminate remote Aboriginal art forms in light of the artists own points and intentions. By attending to the design, the richness of a palate, gestural vitality and so on, art writers are able to locate these highly recalcitrant art objects within a sanctified aesthetic domain which legitimizes them, and which accrues to them the qualities of excellence associated with that domain. Thus the eschewing of ethnographic information and the repudiation of Anthropology and Ethnography serves two purposes here: it affirms the anti-Anthropology stance adopted by members of the urban Indigenous polity, and it allows writers to demonstrate their recognition and respect of Aboriginal art forms (and therefore the Indigenous subject) by aligning those forms with venerated, canonical art of the West. If Western Abstract art can be appreciated on its own terms, then so should Aboriginal art, the implication being that the work is diminished by any dependence on further explanation.

Conclusion
This article has identified three overlapping modalities of the Art/Ethnography binary. For urban Aboriginal artists and their non-Indigenous advocates, an anti-Ethnography or anti-Anthropology stance signifies the resilience and legitimacy of an eclectic Indigenous identity that has withstood the colonial project and the discriminating authenticity faultline that accompanied it within the cultural domain. For non-Indigenous actors who feel implicated when confronted by Aboriginal political critique, the opposition allows them to position themselves virtuously with respect to historical and current racial tensions. For art writers in particular, it is a means to avoid the difficulties associated with articulating the content of remote Aboriginal art by taking advantage of the sanctuary of a canonized formalism. The frequent uncritical use of the binary in Aboriginal art discourse is the outcome of a synergy of two objectives that politicize the field: the desire for recognition on the part of Indigenous actors, and the desire for post-colonial redemption on the part of non-Indigenous actors. I now wish to advance a tentative critique of this situation. Arguably, remote Aboriginal artists are reliant on others to articulate the motivations behind their aesthetic forms within civic discourse and debate. Despite its abstract appearance, much remote Aboriginal art is politically confrontational: it articulates ongoing claims to land, testifies to the existence of social structures that have survived colonization and often seeks to educate westerners. Kuntjil Cooper, a Pitjantjatjara artist from Irrunytju in Central Australia, declares:
I want to paint the tjukurpa [Dreaming] for my country. . . . When I am gone my grandchildren will be able to understand their culture when they see my paintings. I want whitefellas to respect anangu [Pitjantjatjara peoples] culture. When they see these important paintings they will know that tjukurpa is strong, that anangu are strong. (in Knights, 2006: 43, see also Nelson, 2000; Yunupingu, 1997)

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From the point of view of Habermass model, the discourse of art writers can enhance the communicative and politically instigative potential of aesthetic forms that seek to engage and change public opinion regarding state power. In light of this, the aspirations and artistic intentions of remote Aboriginal artists could be better communicated to art audiences if an ethnographic methodology was embraced by art writers and other art world actors. Isolated from their adversarial disciplinary bearings, art history/theory and ethnography/ anthropology of art are simply explanatory discourses that enable a deeper understanding of the art object (Myers, 1994). As Gell (2006) has argued, just as wall text, written material, interviews and so on are necessary to illuminate Western conceptual artworks as vehicles of complicated ideas, so can artefacts and artworks produced by non-Western artists be enfranchised via the provision of ethnographic material that shows how they are embodiments or residues of complex intentionalities (2006: 230234). Art historian Vivien Johnson has synthesized ethnographic and art historical methodologies in her studies of Papunya art practice. Having spent almost 30 years researching the artistic output of the community, with much time spent in Papunya, her art histories are informed by a thorough understanding of the artists biographies, the family networks through which styles have evolved, and the country and the Dreamings for which those artists are responsible (Johnson, 2003, 2007). At the museum exhibition Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert (2007), which was curated by Johnson, lighting and spatial arrangement were conducive to aesthetic contemplation, yet each work was accompanied by an accessible and informative plaque. Regarding the provision of contextual information in the exhibition space, she says: Ive never found the explanation of Papunya paintings stood in the way of being able to have that spiritual experience in front of the painting . . . It just enriches it (Meacham, 2008: 3). Noting that explanations of meaning have receded as Papunya paintings have been accepted within the High Art domain, in her catalogue essay she stresses that these paintings are more than just art (2007: 3940). Gells and Johnsons approaches highlight the potential for art professionals to extend the reach of remote Aboriginal artists voices by drawing on ethnographic material. However, this would depend upon ethnography as a methodology being dissociated from colonial relations, the authenticity fault-line and primitivism. Currently the policing effect of the Art/Ethnography binary may actually be affirming rather than subverting primitivist views of remote Aboriginal art, because it encourages purely formalist modes of engagement that elide the arts politically demanding content. This article has sought to show that the Art/Ethnography binary is a highly consequential product of the Indigenous politys struggles for recognition and empowerment. The binarys salience, despite its spurious nature, indicates that many non-Indigenous professionals are responsive to such aspirations, and my concluding critique seeks to imagine what greater efficacy and moral power the Indigenous aesthetic public sphere might have should Aboriginal artists from remote regions have a greater voice within it. Acknowledgement
The arguments presented herein have benefited greatly from the suggestions of two anonymous reviewers and the editor David Inglis, for which I am grateful. I am also indebted to Paul Jones for his guidance during the preparation of this article.

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1. The label Art is ubiquitous in discussions of Indigenous Australian cultural production that took place prior to the establishment of the Aboriginal art market. However, the Western heritage of Art as a concept and phenomenon makes it a highly problematic label in such contexts, one that misrepresents the cultural producers intentions and the function of those forms within the producers milieu (Berndt, 1964: 71; Inglis, 2005: 13). 2. In Australia, the terms Aboriginal and Indigenous are used interchangeably as identifiers, although the latter is inclusive of the communities of the Torres Strait Islands. In this discussion, I will refer to Aboriginal art and artists, as these are the more common art world phrases. However, I will use Indigenous to refer to the broader social body and identity of Indigenous Australians. 3. Dreaming is the English word used to refer to this body of religious knowledge, for which each language group has a different name. 4. Art, Ethnography and Anthropology will be capitalized when they have the status of paradigmatic Western systems or discourses. 5. See Amato (2006) and Price (2007) regarding the resilience of colonial paradigms in relation to the new Paris Museum of World Indigenous Art, the Muse du Quai Branly. 6. These modern artists included Margaret Preston, Frances Derham, Karel Kupka and Tony Tuckson. 7. A view shared by sociologists of art (see for example Bourdieu, 1993: 36; Wolff, 1983: 16). 8. The committee at this time also included prominent Indigenous artists, writers and activists such as Jack Davis, Jim Everett, Oodgeroo Noonoocal (Kath Walker) and Lin Onus (Weeks, Hilty and Hauffe, 1993: 9). See also Myers (2002) for a nuanced account of the conflicting interests that were negotiated by the Aboriginal Art Board. 9. See for example the work of R E A, Fiona Foley, Brook Andrew, Danie Mellor and Judy Watson. 10. Bell is referring to the kind of Aboriginal art that has iconographic content and/or appears abstract. 11. A conference series that brought together artists, academics and art professionals to discuss Aboriginal art and politics. 12. Cf. Rothwells statements above which contrasts the popular appeal of the sacred with critical appreciation of Aboriginal art, associating anthropology with the former. 13. Rather, remote Aboriginal artistic production has communal and familial reference points and trajectories, and is informed by locally specific social practices and religious beliefs (Dussart, 1999; Perkins, 2003: 61). Furthermore, all of this is affected by the unique economic conditions of remote community life. 14. An annual conference exclusively for Aboriginal artists and art professionals. 15. I must acknowledge that Aboriginal artists and art professionals (see Foley, 2006; Katona, 2007) have experienced and observed a systemic paternalism and suspicion regarding their conduct amongst non-Indigenous art professionals, and argue that they remain marginalized with respect to dominant discourses (such as anthropology). While disempowering, this wariness on the part of some non-Indigenous art professionals in fact reflects the efficacy of the Indigenous aesthetic public sphere.

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