Since the 1980s Indigenous Australian artists have exhibited in ethnographic museums and contemporary spaces across the UK. Representing a diversity of practices, styles and meanings the artworks that have arrived in Britain are, perhaps, only identifiable as a group by the (self-expressed) identity of the artists. These artworks often interact with existing Indigenous Australian collections, dating back to the early colonial period. How are these historic and contemporary works displayed, received and understood in the UK? How do they interact with each other and what places do they hold in UK art worlds? Do they describe past or contemporary Australian experiences to a British audience or do they speak more of cosmopolitan and global issues?
My PhD thesis traces the history of the acquisition and display of Indigenous Australia in Britain. Focusing on the processes, aims and ambitions that created collections and exhibitions, I consider the roles of individuals (artists, curators, commentators) in bringing Indigenous Australian artworks to the UK. I also assess broader trends, from the politically charged exhibitions that took place in the late 1980s, to the recent Indigenous Australia exhibition at the British Museum (which I had the privilege of working on). Analysis of the role of museums with older Indigenous Australian collections will complement research into exhibitions in contemporary spaces. I aim to be led, as much as possible, by the practice, interests and ambitions of those working in the field and the experiences of visitors.
Thank you to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for supporting this thesis and to all of the artists, researchers, museum professionals and others who continue to be so generous with their time and knowledge.