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Guest editorial

journal contribution
posted on 2006-02-01, 00:00 authored by Katya Johanson, Ruth Rentschler
An examination of Australian media reports over the last twelve months on the subject of Indigenous arts suggests a number of significant contradictions. Indigenous affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone called Aboriginal arts ‘Australia’s greatest cultural gift to the world’ (Australian, 24 January 2006), while the always-controversial expatriate Germaine Greer argued that much Indigenous art was in fact poor quality and ‘a big con’ (West Australian, 13 December 2005). Curators at France’s Musee du Quai Branly dedicated a wing of the new gallery to Aboriginal art. Yet many Indigenous leaders – including David Ross from the Central Land Council and Hetti Perkins, curator of Indigenous Arts at the Art Gallery of NSW – continue to publicise the widespread exploitation of Aboriginal artists in Central Australia by unscrupulous art dealers (Northern Territory News, 22 December 2005). Former head of the Northern Land Council and former Australian of the Year, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who twenty years ago presented Bob Hawke with the painting Barunga Statement in celebration of the government’s commitment to a treaty, recently threatened to take the painting back from Parliament House in protest against ‘successive governments’’ neglect of Indigenous policy (Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 2006). And in the performing arts, Richard Walley drew attention to the lack of professional recognition of Indigenous performing artists (Australian, 24 January 2006).

Such contradictions within the management and marketing of Indigenous arts have persisted for several years, and it was in response that this special issue of the Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management was initiated. As guest editors, we sought to present research that examines, more deeply and constructively, the marketing of Indigenous arts in Australia both historically and in the present. What emerges from this collection of five papers is a familiar scholarly theme: a tension between the ‘periphery’ and the ‘centre’, between outback and city, between larger and smaller Australian states and between Australia and other nations.

Jonathan Sweet’s ‘UNESCO and cultural heritage practice in Australia in the 1950s’ looks at the evolving relationship between Australia and the United Nations through an analysis of a significant touring exhibition: Australian Aboriginal Culture. Sweet pinpoints the 1950s as a period in which Australian museology’s approach to Indigenous cultures gradually changed, and in which Australian participation in UNESCO through the exhibition helped shape the ideological position UNESCO advocated. His article provides a useful historical contrast against which the following four articles may be read.

Chapman, Cardamone, Manahan and Rentschler look at local and contemporary issues in Indigenous arts marketing. Katrina Chapman’s ‘Positioning urban Aboriginal art in the Australian Indigenous art market’ investigates perceptions about contemporary urban Aboriginal art, concluding that the estrangement – and indeed stereotyping – of urban and traditional art creates a false set of values that urban artists are challenging. Similarly, Megan Cardamone, Esmai Manahan and Ruth Rentschler contrast perceptions of Aboriginal arts from the northern and south-eastern states, identifying crucial misconceptions that contribute to the value system applied to these arts. As Ruth Rentschler is a joint editor of this issue, the review process for this article has been managed by Katya Johanson as co-editor.

Two case studies of marketing the arts – which look at different artforms and in opposite sides of the country – then follow. Jennifer Radbourne, Janet Campbell and Vera Ding’s ‘Building audiences for Indigenous theatre’ analyses research on aud



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