Colonial artwork conversation

Standard 1.4

Colonial artwork conversation

The following is a reflection on a class discussion had between myself, my mentor and students during a Year 11 Art lesson on Wednesday 26th July, 2017

During placement I developed content for and taught a Year 11 Art class. The unit was
centered around students designing and developing their own websites, or ‘digital archives’.
During the unit critical thinking was encouraged through the discussion of the power structures
inherent in any form of archive, particularly within heavily funded and highly influential spaces
such as state-owned art galleries like the NGA or the NGV. It was after one of these lessons
that I wrote the following reflection:

“We considered why certain artworks are displayed and others are not, along with who
makes those decisions and why. This led to some extremely interesting discussion about
John Glover’s representation of Indigenous Australians and how, why and if his work
should still be displayed. Does having it on display in such a prestigious setting glorify the
work? Would the act of removing his work only hide a shameful colonial past?”

The discussion and subsequent questions around the John Glover work were generated after
one of the students described their aversion to his work being prominently displayed at the
National Gallery of Victoria.

Exploring the power structures that are on display in national institutions such as art galleries
allowed a conversation to develop that built on the scaffolding of students’ prior knowledge of
contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history.

This conversation could have been followed up with a guest lecture from a local Koorie artist,
such as Paolla Balla, a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman who works as an artist,
curator, speaker, educator and cultural producer. Balla could have discussed the idea that:

“In the gallery space and in cultural institutions, we situate ourselves to return the gaze
with direct eye contact and a request that you listen to us deeply – whilst we attempt at
the same time to subvert the process; to de-colonise and to Indigenise the very places
that have represented us through the colonial gaze”
(Balla, 2016).

The learning that could come from these lessons would contribute to the Marrung goals of:

“(teachers) challenge racism, advocate for the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander perspectives in curriculum…and promote the recognition of local Koorie history,
culture and Traditional owners”
(VDET, pg 22, 2016) and

“Community engagement in learning and development” where “services and Koorie
communities work together on local, place-based approaches to improving learning
outcomes”
(VDET, pg 20, 2016).

References

Balla, P. (2016). Sovereignty: Inalienable and intimate. In Sovereignty (essays accompanying the
exhibition). Melbourne: Australian Centre for Contemporary Arts, 13-17

State of Victoria Department of Education & Training (VDET) (2016). Marrung: Aboriginal
Education Plan 2016 – 2026. Melbourne: Department of Education & Training