Bad Aboriginal Art

Bad Aboriginal Art: Tradition, Media, and Technological Horizons

Introduction By Marcia Langton
Foreword by Dick Hebdige
Eric Michaels
Volume: 3
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttvck
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  • Book Info
    Bad Aboriginal Art
    Book Description:

    This is the account of the author‘s period of residence and work with the Walpiri Aborigines of western Central Australia, where he studied the impact of television on these remote communities. Sharp, exact, and unrelentingly honest, this volume records with an extraordinary combination of distance and immersion the intervention of technology into a remote Aboriginal community and that community’s forays into broadcasting.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8546-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xxvi)
    Dick Hebdige

    ERIC MICHAELS’s work with — to take a different example — the inventive, resilient, and varied Warlpiri Aborigines of western Central Australia effects the drastic transformation of perspective envisaged in this passage by James Clifford. Even so, the collection of essays, lectures, and book reviews assembled here hardly qualifies as ethnography pure and simple, still less as ethnography “proper.” Although he spent more than three years researching the impact of TV on this remote Aboriginal community at Yuendumu, Eric Michaels never stayed long enough in one place, figuratively speaking, to establish a career as a professional anthropologist. Prevented from joining the “academic...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. xxvii-xxxvi)
    Marcia Langton

    THE WORK of Eric Michaels straddles both anthropology and cultural criticism. His major contributions to these modes of inquiry were his descriptive and theoretical writings on cultural specificity in Aboriginal aesthetics and production. In a tangential way, his work follows on from that of N. D. Munn (1973), another scholar from the United States who worked with Warlpiri people in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But Michaels’s analysis is unique in that it addresses how Warlpiri people make video and television, and discusses the specific Aboriginal cultural modes of sociality that are brought to bear in these endeavors. He...

  5. A Note to the Reader
    (pp. xxxvii-xliv)
    Michael Leigh
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vl-l)
    Paul Foss
  7. A Primer of Restrictions on Picture– Taking in Traditional Areas of Aboriginal Australia [1986]
    (pp. 1-20)

    TRADITIONAL PEOPLES’ first encounters with photography sometimes lead them to conclude that the camera is a dangerous, magical instrument capable of stealing some essential part of their being, causing illness or death. Generally such anecdotes are not explained but get filed away with other exotic superstitions held by curious primitives, leaving these people to sort out their own relationship to cameras, photographs, film, and now video. Traditional people sometimes follow through by taming the magical properties of recording media. For example, when missionaries and health workers banned the preservation and display of the bones of dead ancestors in Melanesian houses,...

  8. Aboriginal Content: Who’s Got It—Who Meeds It? [1986]
    (pp. 21-48)

    DURING A telephone conversation with an executive of a television company licensed to begin direct broadcasting to one of the remote satellite footprints next year, I was asked, somewhat plaintively, if I could help him to identify precisely what would constitute “Aboriginal Content” and if perhaps I might help get him some. This category is evolving as a criterion for judging the suitability of program services by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal when evaluating applications where a significant component of the intended audience will be Aboriginal. The Tribunal may in fact be extending its criteria for suitability, within the policy context...

  9. Western Desert Sandpainting and Postmodernism[1987]
    (pp. 49-62)

    IN 1983, Mr. Terry Davis, the new local school headmaster, brought considerable excitement to the Yuendumu community by his interest in and support of traditional Warlpiri culture and language. One of his more modest suggestions was to make the school look less “European” by commissioning senior men to paint the school doors with traditional designs. The results were more spectacular than anyone had envisaged.

    Both European and Aboriginal residents of Yuendumu took considerable pleasure and pride in the achievement. Visitors to the community were equally enthusiastic, and word about these remarkable paintings began to spread. My own response was to...

  10. Hundreds Shot at Aboriginal Community: ABC Makes TV Documentary at Yuendumu [1987]
    (pp. 63-80)

    THE ANECDOTES reported in this somewhat jocular story occurred several years ago (1985) and may not seem especially relevant to today’s reader. Changes in ABC staff and organization, emerging federal policy on Aboriginal broadcasting, and the awarding of the RCTS license to CAAMA all could be interpreted as altering the circumstances described here and solving the dilemma that introduced television poses for remote Aborigines. But I think not. Despite all of the resources, policy, and planning that have gone into Aboriginal broadcasting in the last few years, I believe the conditions of traditional Aborigines in places such as Yuendumu remain...

  11. Hollywood Iconography: A Warlpiri Reading [1987]
    (pp. 81-98)

    ISOLATED ABORIGINAL Australians in the Central Desert region, where traditional language and culture have survived a traumatic hundred-year contact period, began to view Hollywood videotapes in the early 1980s and are now beginning to receive television from the new national satellite, AUSSAT. This situation raises many issues for humanistic research, including questions about the ability of the traditional culture to survive this new electronic invasion. I spent three years living with Warlpiri Aborigines of the Yuendumu community undergoing this imposed transition, partly engaged in applied research and development leading to the birth of an indigenous community television station that challenged...

  12. For a Cultural Future: Francis Jupurrurla Makes TV at Yuendumu [1987]
    (pp. 99-126)

    ON APRIL 1, 1985, daily television transmissions began from the studios of the Warlpiri Media Association at the Yuendumu community on the edge of Central Australia’s Tanami Desert. Television signals, when broadcast as radio waves, assure a kind of mute immortality: they radiate endlessly beyond their site of creation, so this first program might be playing right now to the rings of Saturn. But it no longer exists at its point of origin in Australia. The message, the events behind it, their circumstances and meanings, have mostly been ignored and are likely to be forgotten. That is why I recall...

  13. If “All Anthropologists are Liars ...” [1987]
    (pp. 127-142)

    GEERTZ (1973) claimed ethnography is something “we do.” Others have suggested that it is something we write (see Clifford and Marcus 1986). Both writing and doing (inscription and practice) have received considerable critical attention in semiotics, aesthetics, and theoretical science in the last few decades. What happens when we apply some of these recent reflexive considerations that have emerged in philosophical theory to particular anthropological practices and ethnographic inscription? I want to examine a recent ethnography that, because it is new and means to be, because it attempts certain classical holisms while citing more contemporary equivocal theory, and because it...

  14. Bad Aboriginal Art [1988]
    (pp. 143-164)

    DURING 1987 the Australian press reported frequently that Aboriginal art, especially Western Desert¹ acrylic “dot paintings,” had become flavor of the month in New York, Paris, and Munich. “Flavor of the month” is an odd descriptor Australians overuse to resolve the incompatibility of such reports of Australian success overseas with a cherished and characteristic myth of the second-rate, sometimes labeled “cultural cringe.” Indeed, Australia now has a suspiciously elaborate terminology for identifying the contradictions of colonialism and creativity. The notion of radical unoriginality is claimed to privilege this discourse, so that Sydney, for example, now asserts itself as the most...

  15. Para-Ethnography [1988]
    (pp. 165-176)

    THERE IS an unlabeled variation on theroman à clefwhose plots revolve around communities reacting to the publication of research or stories about them. An insider (or an outsider—this is the major plot variation) “tells all” and exposes a certain institutional corruption or set of individual hypocrisies.The Kinsey Report(movie version),Harrison High,the Bob Hope vehicleBachelor in Paradise,“Harper Valley PTA” in some sense (the song itself serving as the “publication” and then the basis for a TV series), but most classically,Return to Peyton Place,were examples of this type. These narratives typically describe...

  16. Postscript: My Essay on Postmodernism [1987]
    (pp. 177-182)

    IN MADONNA’S recent videoclip “Open Your Heart,” she performs as a stripper inside a room surrounded by spectator booths. The spectators presumably pay to view for a certain period of time; the blind on each window raises in turn; when the pay period is over, the blind descends. I hear there really are such facilities somewhere, one of the more bizarre variants of the commodification of desire predicted by Lenin as symptomatic of late capitalism. That citation may or may not interest Madonna. She probably would be more interested in what the set offers graphically to the audience for the...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 183-192)
  18. Works Cited
    (pp. 193-196)
  19. A Bibliography of Eric Michaels
    (pp. 197-198)
  20. Index
    (pp. 199-204)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)