Sacred Exchanges

Sacred Exchanges: Images in Global Context

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  • Book Info
    Sacred Exchanges
    Book Description:

    As the international art market globalizes the indigenous image, it changes its identity, status, value, and purpose in local and larger contexts. Focusing on a school of Australian Aboriginal painting that has become popular in the contemporary art world, Robyn Ferrell traces the influence of cultural exchanges on art, the self, and attitudes toward the other.

    Aboriginal acrylic painting, produced by indigenous women artists of the Australian Desert, bears a superficial resemblance to abstract expressionism and is often read as such by viewers. Yet to see this art only through a Western lens is to miss its unique ontology, logics of sensation, and rich politics and religion. Ferrell explores the culture that produces these paintings and connects its aesthetic to the brutal environmental and economic realities of its people. From here, she travels to urban locales, observing museums and department stores as they traffic interchangeably in art and commodities.

    Ferrell ties the history of these desert works to global acts of genocide and dispossession. Rethinking the value of the artistic image in the global market and different interpretations of the sacred, she considers photojournalism, ecotourism, and other sacred sites of the western subject, investigating the intersection of modern art and postmodern culture. She ultimately challenges the primacy of the "European gaze" and its fascination with sacred cultures, constructing a more balanced intercultural dialogue that deemphasizes the aesthetic of the real championed by western philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50442-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology, Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Writing on Art
    (pp. 1-6)

    No writing on art is ever solely “about” the work it purports to translate, but rather makes of the work an element in its own material. Theory has its own aesthetic, and produces its own crisis. It creates another intelligibility, out of a specific collision of philosophical and artistic materials.

    Writing about art does not mean that theory is simply imposed on art, or that artistic ellipsis is merely subjected to critical scrutiny. When theoretical representation attempts to master artistic representation this way, it is most blindly in the grip of its own transferences, and its object typically eludes it....

  6. Art
    (pp. 7-44)

    Utopia is a desert community in outback Australia, renowned for a group of remarkable Aboriginal artists. The women from this station are especially known for their acrylic painting and their batik: names like Emily Kngwarreye, Kathleen Petyarre, Gloria Petyarre, Minnie Pwerle. Utopia is 240 kilometers northeast of Alice Springs, accessible only by four-wheel drive.

    The name, Utopia, is apt, conveying the engagement of Aboriginal Dreamtime with a legendary aspirational space in European lore. Utopia captures the difference between European and Aboriginal notions of time and place. It renders the irony of Aboriginal life in postcolonial Australia, and the violence of...

  7. Culture
    (pp. 45-74)

    How are people from widely differing cultural perspectives able to come together in any sense of the “global”? It is not through rational argument that these encounters more often take place. We live in eras that, however distinct from each other—the Central Desert, Melbourne and Sydney, New York and London, or the Sudan—are colonized by the image.

    The image circulates—from the high art canvas to the mass media televised news bulletin—throughout the “Real World,” soliciting viewers to respond as they can. And these responses are constituted from the feelings called up in viewers through the action...

  8. Gender
    (pp. 75-98)

    The point of desert women’s painting, Biddle argues, is to “make a mark,” a physical pressure or imprint on canvas in the same way that the kurruwarri were traditionally made on skin. In doing so, they evoke the imprint on country of the ancestors’ actions; the fires, the dancing, the food, the fighting. The marks of these paintings are designed to produce the experience of being in that ceremony in that country, keeping the continuity of the Dreaming acting in the present.

    And this matters now, more than ever, with the exile of traditional owners, their care confined to canvas...

  9. Law
    (pp. 99-152)

    Yuendumu Doors was a series of paintings of Dreamings done on the doors of the local school by Warlpiri elders, and subsequently reproduced in a publication of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (Michaels 1987). The decision to exhibit Dreaming designs for all the world to see had been a hard one for this group, who had previously protected the secrecy of their kurruwarri.

    The Warlpiri had been among other desert groups that had fiercely resisted the Pintupi revealing of the law to nonindigenous people at Papunya in paintings. Traditionally, the display of these designs among Aboriginal people, in the...

    (pp. 153-160)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 161-178)