Here is another video from COFA Talks Online, out of the the University of Sydney’s College of Fine Arts and its Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics. This one features Jennifer Biddle, author of Breasts, Bodies, Canvas: Central Desert art as experience (University of New South Wales Press, 2007, distributed in the United States by the University of Washington Press).
Biddle’s thesis deserves widespread recognition: that there is no necessary distinction between the “old blackfella business” of what we think of as “high” Aboriginal art and the “new whitefella business” of video, graffiti, and computer art, or between the elderly custodians of traditional culture and the younger generation which embodies contemporary Indigenous culture. I agree that unless we make this thought our own, we risk once again confining Aboriginal culture to the imaginary prison of a static and unchanging prehistory. But I don’t mean to belabor that point here.
What most excites me about this video (no slight to Dr. Biddle) is that it includes a brief excerpt from another video that I have been eager to see since I first read about its creation years ago. The video in question is Gularri: that brings unity and it was made by Jennifer Deger and Bangana Wunungmurra. The story behind this amazing collaboration is partially the subject of Deger’s superb ethnography, Shimmering Screens: making media in an Aboriginal community (University of Minnesota Press, 2006). Biddle also offers us a clip from Deger’s Christmas with Wawa, a more recent collaboration with Bangana’s family. This latter film explores the convergence of Yolngu and Christian traditions and the ways in which media are being used to respectfully memorialize the dead and in doing so restructure traditional practices regarding the use of images of the departed.
It’s delightful to see the synergy between the work of Deger and Biddle, student and mentor, on display here. I realize that academic lectures might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this one is intriguing and most worthwhile. As the COFA site puts it, “The audacious dynamism of contemporary Indigenous art requires new forms of cultural analysis.” The talk was recorded on March 30, 2010.