Lecture 6. Representing the Sacred in a Modern World: Aboriginal Art Since 1800

The final lecture concerns the transformation of traditional Aboriginal mark-making that utilizes new materials, content, and venues. For thousands of years Aborigines painted on eucalyptus bark. This tradition changed in the mid-20th century, when missionaries asked artists in several provinces to create bark paintings to be used in educating white Australians about indigenous culture and to sell so that profits could help support missions. This coincided with some national programs to relocate Aboriginal groups to reserves. Since about 1970 bark paintings became popular on the art market and bark paintings became a popular focus for art exhibits. In the late 20th century, some Aboriginal artists also began to make prints and canvas paintings. These, too, were collected by museums and collectors. At the same time, some Aboriginal artists ventured into new subject matter: painting, sculpture, and installations focused on the continuing plight of Australia’s first peoples, particularly land rights and their status as second-class citizens.

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