Sovereign Goddess: Looking for Gumillya the Bound and Unbound

Author: Ali Baker

Baker, Ali, 2018 Sovereign Goddess: Looking for Gumillya the Bound and Unbound, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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This theoretical exegesis of select aspects of my artistic practice begins by considering the moment my reat-grandmother Kamilia’s body was cast in the Royal Adelaide Hospital by Norman Tindale and subsequently stored in the South Australian Museum as part of a racialised movement of Physical Anthropology and Eugenics. This moment when the coloniser attempted to close down our family’s capacity to reproduce, and inhibit our movements and relationships, our relationality and our life. They cast my great-grandmother in order to freeze me, they condemned the ‘real’ Aborigine to the museum object, the collection, the dim black and white photo, the shelf. These are the ideas that form the foundation of this modernity. Tindale’s collection therefore represents a knowledge system that has ruptured and violently undermined the Nunga view of knowledge creation as a respectful and ethical endeavour. This research examines how these ruptures in ideas about respectful knowledge production and transmission could be claimed as points of healing and transformation by examining how stories are told and the implications of the stories and archives we leave for future generations. These broader questions have particular ethical relevance for filmmaking, performance and other forms of artistic practice, the areas of my disciplinary training and research.

My work responds to the violent representational practices of colonisation. It artistically and collectively responds to the ways that the Protector of Aborigines records and the collections of museums globally contain and restrict representational understandings of Indigenous peoples. What happens then when these ‘objects’ of study become human? When these objects of study become academics? We become human; because while our families and elders may have been denied a humanity by the Europeans, our people never stopped being, were never frozen in time, were never plants or animals of a lower rung of a constructed false hierarchy, a hierarchy created precisely to justify the stealing of land while allowing those who benefited from the theft to feel good and righteous about it. Where is the place to mourn (or even forget) the crimes of re-articulation, where are the memorials, the places of honouring our dead, our lost and heart broken, how can our public places ever represent what this country is for our people? This violent history remains invisible to most. My ongoing creative project asks; what is useful and important to understand about violent colonial practices of racialisation, abjection and oppression? The work asks what are the ethical conditions for freedom for Indigenous peoples who exist both within and outside of the neocolonial settler state? How might we represent ourselves and be both empowered and collectively free? What is the essence of our lives that lies beyond government or institutional control? How can we resist isolation as Aboriginal artists and academics?

Keywords: Indigenous Visual Art, Indigenous Histories, Collective Practice, Mirning, Museums

Subject: Visual Arts thesis, History thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Associate Professor Steve Hemming