Puzzles and Problems with Art Appropriation

May 30, 2019
School Of Historical & Philosophical Studies and Centre of Visual Art, University of Melbourne

Buxton Contemporary, Southbank campus Cnr Southbank Boulevard & Dodds Street
Melbourne 3006

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities


  • Faculty of Fine Arts and Music
  • Faculty of Arts



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Appropriation is a part of the artist's creative toolkit. When is it wrong to appropriate art?

Icons, patterns and objects that are part of a culture are sometimes used by art-makers and curators. They might be re-presented with or without the collaboration or permission of the source. And there may be little or no transformation of the original.

Is the appropriation of indigenous art and knowledge different from other forms of cultural appropriation?

How might appreciation of contemporary indigenous arts be different from objects that have secret or sacred significance?

Is there a point where something is transformed enough to no longer require the permission of the owners?

What counts as collaboration and permission anyway?

Does curating always involve some transformation? When does a curator become an art-maker?

Not all problems have answers but there are always good questions to be asked. This panel is different. The focus is on finding the questions on art appropriation.

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Dr Elizabeth Burns Coleman lectures in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University. A philosopher of art by training, she is author of "Aboriginal Art, Identity and Appropriation", and has published numerous articles and chapters exploring cross cultural aesthetics. Her recent work explores how the concept of art operates to undermine indigenous people's conceptions of the appropriate treatment of art, and the rights to control how it is used."

Dr Jaye Early is a Darug man. Utilising video and painting, Early's ongoing research posits that through an adaptation of what Michel Foucault terms, technologies of the self, contemporary confessional video art gives voice to displaced subjectivities, which challenge coercive mechanisms of public space to present a more complex politics of the self. Early is a sessional Lecturer/Tutor in the Critical & Theoretical Studies department within the School of Art at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Margo Neale is Head, Centre Indigenous Knowledges, senior indigenous curator and principal adviser to the Director at the National Museum of Australia (NMA). She is also an Adjunct Professor at the Australian National University and has published widely including the Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture and curated groundbreaking award winning national and international exhibitions including 'Songlines' exhibition at NMA in 2017, 'Emily Kngwarreye' and 'Lin Onus'.

Tiriki Onus is Head of the Wilin Centre and is undertaking a PhD in materials conservation. Tiriki has worked as a visual artist, art conservator, curator and Opera singer. His lectures on indigenous knowledge and cultural practices include the nature and impacts of indigenous art appropriation. He is currently active in conducting possum coat making and teaching. These activities are connected with his Yorta Yorta heritage.

Professor Robyn Sloggett AM holds the Cripps Foundations Chair of Cultural Materials Conservation and is Director of the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation. She specializes in Art authentication and significance assessment as a tool in preservation and collection management.

Janet Turpie-Johnstone is a painter and photographer. She is an elder originally from the Portland area. She is completing a PhD at Australian National University. Her project involves 'comparing the Indigenous knowing of the land and the colonial attitude of taming the land'.

Paul O'Halloran is a PhD student in Philosophy and Museology at the University of Melbourne. His research program concerns asymmetric harms associated with the appropriation of indigenous art. Paul is chairing the panel. 

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May 29, 2019, 9:00am +10:00

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