The destruction of rock art in the Burrup Peninsula, performed by several mammoth industries strategically located in the Peninsula since the 1960s, allows me to analyse the concept of heritage within a global history of art and find meaning in the difficult task of interpreting rock art. The Burrup Peninsula not only hosts the largest rock art site in the world, but also one of the largest deposits of natural gas, iron ore and salt. As a consequence, the land (sacred to the Indigenous people), becomes extremely important in order to sustain the booming economy of Australia. In this difficult negotiation between heritage and progress the rock art is embedded with new meanings and the heritage becomes ephemeral. Failing to include the site in the World Heritage Site list created by UNESCO, the roles of identity and memory are contested by the two groups represented on each side of the debate: on one hand, the Aboriginal Traditional owners and the archaeologists; on the other, the Australian government and the cultural establishment that denies the rock art an aesthetic significance by considering it “primitive” and “archaic”. The debate becomes even more pertinent after realizing that the Australian government has flagged other buildings and natural parks as World Heritage Sites, while the rock art in the Burrup Peninsula is catalogued as national, but not World, Heritage. As a result, the concept of heritage can be defined on several levels: local, regional, national and international.
Field of Research
200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies
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