The debate of Indigenous art as contemporary art in Western art discourse has been ongoing since the acceptance of Indigenous art as contemporary art in the early 1990s. This has resulted in a collision of four diverse fields; Western art history, Western art criticism, anthropology and Indigenous cultural material. The debate stems from the problematised way the term contemporary is defined by globalised Euro-Western art and its institutions. This thesis considers the value of applying the concept of the contemporary to Indigenous art practices and art, in particular as a mode for cultural self-determination in order to avoid the historical domination of Western art history, history and its discursive power arrangements.
The term, concept or theory of the contemporary remains elusive, indefinable and widespread in Western art discourse. Various definitions exist and are based on notions of openness, newness or plurality. Criticism of the contemporary’s openness has led to speculation of the contemporary as a valid concept or theory and or as a field of art practice, particularly its claim to social or political engagement and its inability to historicise current art.
This thesis contends that the openness of the contemporary concept provides a gateway in which to situate it in a much broader cultural analysis that embraces different historiographies and worldviews. Thereby directly contributing to the ongoing critical discourse of Indigenous art as contemporary art debate.
This thesis contributes to addressing this debate by proposing a definition of the contemporary that bridges history, art history and contemporary art and explores the potential for administering a contemporary art practice within this view. It highlights the historical analysis of the journey of Indigenous art from the ethnographic to the contemporary art museum by examining Indigenous rupture and transformation through Western history and art history. The thesis examines Terry Smith’s recent contextualisation of contemporary theory, as Smith is the only art historian to include Indigenous art in the discussion on contemporary theory. Richard Meyer’s theory on the contemporary is also examined as Meyer is unique in approaching contemporary theory from an artistic practice that embraces co-temporalities, art production and modes of trans-historicity. In ‘rendering the past as newly present’, this thesis proposes methods of contemporary art analysis in the examination of contemporary Indigenous artworks in the context that the socio-political and cultural use of contemporary art as a form of history production.
Description of Creative Work
An exhibition of one large installation took place at Sydney College of the Arts Galleries, Sydney in September 2016. Media included two- and three-dimensional artworks that were hung on the walls and placed on the floor. The installation used Indigenous forms, designs, processes and social, political, and cultural content as a result of the thesis research and demonstrated Indigenous artists are creating their Indigenous histories within the context of contemporary art. Photographic documentation is available in Appendix 3.
 Terry Smith, What is Contemporary Art? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 133.
Panzironi, Francesca(University of Sydney Faculty of Law, 2006-08-29)
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