Entangled Values: Construction of a Global Conception of Australian Indigenous Arts
AbstractThe integration of Australian Indigenous arts in the field of contemporary art is the fruit of a complex historical process deeply rooted in social and political relationships. The Aboriginal art market has grown exponentially since the 90s and acrylic paintings and bark paintings have become international icons of Australian national identity. Aboriginal art has been, and to a certain extent, is still endangered by cheap imitations, fakes and the transgression of Indigenous artists’ rights and community protocols. These issues have been addressed by various inquiries and reports since the 1990s. Recently, a new paradigm has emerged from the scholarship produced by researchers, such as Howard Morphy (2000), Jon Altman (2005) and others. These scholars have investigated particularly the community-controlled art centres and outlined how it could be taken as a business model. In their studies, the art centres are presented as inter-cultural institutions, as both a commercial and a cultural enterprise in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are active agents. With artists, art coordinators, curators, art dealers, bureaucrats, art critics, journalists and visitors who interact to define what Aboriginal art is and where and how it should circulate, we could easily consider the Aboriginal art industry as an art world. Drawing on Danto’s work, Howard Becker (1982) describes the art world as "the network of people whose cooperative activity, organized via their joint knowledge of conventional means of doing things, produce(s) the kind of art works that art world is noted for". What evaluative processes do they use to construct and justify their choices? This “loose network of overlapping subcultures held together by a belief in art” (Thornton, 2008) is a challenging site to explore the process of value creation. This paper is focused on the marketing side because this field reveals significant power relations within the Australia’s Indigenous arts sector, power relations that conduct to the construction and negotiation of a complex regime of entangled values.
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