Country into landscape: an examination of incised and painted boab nuts from the Kimberley and the development of a Western-style landscape genre through the National Museum of Australia collection

Author: Michele Lang

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 28 Jan 2019.

Lang, Michele, 2017 Country into landscape: an examination of incised and painted boab nuts from the Kimberley and the development of a Western-style landscape genre through the National Museum of Australia collection, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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Abstract

In comparison with other Aboriginal arts and crafts of Australia, incised and painted boab nuts from the Kimberley region of Australia have been under-researched. In the context of ‘authentic’ Aboriginal art practices, incised and painted boab nuts, usually sold as tourist art, have been, with notable exceptions, regarded as marginal. This view persists, despite their clear motif continuity with the rock art and tree marking of the same region. This thesis assembles scholarship from art history, the anthropology of art, geography, and Australian history, to examine stylistic change in these decorated boab nuts over the twentieth century. Using the National Museum of Australia’s collection of 77 incised and painted boab nuts, accessioned or receipted in and before 2002, as well as other documentary and visual sources, this thesis investigates the development of the category of realistic Western-style landscape. Understood as a response to non-Indigenous Australian culture and as a complex site of exchange, such re-visualisation of these Aboriginal artists’ profound visual narratives via their contemporaneous and historic visual images, allows for a reinterpretation of contact relations in the Kimberley. An examination of this so-called ‘landscape category’ is significant to the understanding of incised and painted boab nuts, not merely as tourist art, but rather as an inherent element of the continuity of Kimberley art practices, past to present and into the future. The thesis aims to position the Western-style landscapes realised on boab nuts within the Aboriginal art milieu as contributing to continuing and ongoing artistic practice. Rather than viewing these artefacts solely as evidence of assimilation and dismissing them as mere ‘tourist art’, they can be regarded as providing new insights into artistic practices that involve engagement between culturally diverse groups, both Indigenous and colonising. While not downplaying the undoubted assimilatory pressure that has been exerted on Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, such reconceptualisation of the Western-style landscapes on incised and painted boab nuts as contemporaneous and ongoing visual arts practice facilitates and strengthens an understanding of the more recent interpretations of contact interactions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people of the Kimberley, while contributing new research to and understanding of the literature on contemporary Aboriginal art practices in the region. In addition, this thesis offers a new regional study to the global literature on cross-cultural art and encounters.

Keywords: Australian Aboriginal arts and crafts, Australian history, cross-cultural encounters, Kimberley contact history, museum collections and collecting
Subject: Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Dr Christine Nicholls