Art + emergence

Deger, Jennifer (2012) Art + emergence. In: Gilchrist, Stephen, (ed.) Crossing Cultures: the Owen and Wagner collection of contemporary Aboriginal Australian art at the Hood Museum of Art. Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, NH, USA, pp. 74-81.

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This short essay on Yolngu aesthetics is compelled by a conviction that the forms of creativity on display in the Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art matter more than ever before to the Aboriginal people of northeast Arnhem Land. Despite ongoing efforts to become "modern" on their own terms, a growing sense of powerlessness and despair infects the communities and outstations scattered across roughly fifteen thousand square miles of Yolngu homelands in the Top End of the Northern Territory.

When I began researching Yolngu media in the mid-1990S, I met community and clan leaders who were filled with a sense of optimism and possibility, despite the enormous challenge of moving toward self-determination while dealing with the social impacts of poverty, disease, and profound intergenerational change. In just over half a century since missionaries had established the first settlements across the region, this remote region had produced national leaders in indigenous affairs as well as world-famous musicians and artists, and had led the way in the establishment of innovative social programs such as bicultural education. Yet today, despite a continuing international impact, especially in the arts and music, the outlook among my Yolngu friends and colleagues has dramatically changed.

On the worst days, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Yolngu life is becoming reduced, in brutal increments, to an endless vacillation between dullness and excruciating pain. Murder, suicide, sorcery, "lifestyle" diseases, substance abuse, loss of cultural knowledge, the breakdown of traditional authority-tragedy and loss shadow many aspects of everyday life. As long-term unemployment and welfare dependency erode purpose and possibility still further, neoassimilationist state policies flounder, pushing insistently toward a final, fatal undermining of local forms of governance and initiative.

The stakes of survival have shifted. It is no longer simply traditional Yolngu ways of life that are under the threat of disappearance but ways of being alive, modes of being sensuously and meaningfully engaged with the world and with others.

Art, in all its emergent forms, offers crucial ways of addressing this crisis.

Item ID: 32356
Item Type: Book Chapter (Non-Commercial)
ISBN: 978-0-944722-44-2
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2014 06:45
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 40%
20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies @ 30%
19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190502 Fine Arts (incl Sculpture and Painting) @ 30%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950104 The Creative Arts (incl. Graphics and Craft) @ 40%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing @ 30%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950302 Conserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage @ 30%
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