The Indigenous culture of this country has been depicted visually in many ways throughout postcolonial history, from the idea of the ‘noble savage’ to a drawcard for the tourist industry. Because of cultural stereotypes, images of Indigenous people living traditionally are seen as pure. Images of those living in an urban environment are seen as impure. These stereotypes can be traced back to the spread of the British Empire around the globe.
I vividly remember browsing for books in my high school library. My best friend at the time found a book by Spike Milligan. He showed me a picture of Milligan pointing a gun at some Indian people. The caption read ‘Shooting a few coons before breakfast’. My friend laughed, but I didn’t think it was funny. I was shocked by his response, and at the same time wondered how he learnt such an ideology.
My artistic training in high school as well as college focused largely on Impressionism, the Heidelberg School and modernism. Any lessons related to Aboriginal art were generic with no relationship to land/country. I associated concentric circles with Jasper Johns rather than Indigenous iconography. The rise of Boomalli and the so-called urban Indigenous artists of the 1980s was the point where Indigenous people who were not living ‘traditionally’ found a voice through non-traditional art.
Richard Bell once told me that we (Indigenous artists) are creating the new Dreaming. This was a concept I had not thought about before, but it made perfect sense. From Tjapaltjarri’s dot paintings to Destiny Deacon’s photographs, they all tell our stories – old and new.