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Art making : a tool for cultural survival


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West, VL 2008 , 'Art making : a tool for cultural survival', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The project is an investigation of the historical and contemporary context of art making as a tool for cultural survival, with particular reference to Tasmanian Aboriginal culture and in particular my own art practice, as maker and mentor.
The exegesis explores the Tasmanian Invasion and colonial attempts to eradicate Tasmanian Aboriginal culture. It examines early colonial resistance and strategies of suppression of cultural expression as practiced by the colonial powers. Against this is placed an exploration of the role of fibre in traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal culture: how fibre was central to survival and how it was utilised, particularly by women, to create many essential possessions of the everyday tool kit of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Fibre plants and techniques for working with them, along with the use of kelp for making water carriers, were developed over thousands of generations. The importance of fibre and kelp techniques and forms in both cultural and physical survival is demonstrated through adaptive processes that continue to the present day.
The project demonstrates how current programs for cultural revival often draw on museum collections from the early colonial period to reclaim cultural knowledge to ensure that modern research in the field is underpinned by actual traditional practices. These programs and projects are central to a growing cultural resurgence within the Tasmanian
Aboriginal community, playing a vital role in challenging the myth of extinction often associated with the Tasmanian Aborigines. The support work for the project includes documentation of projects carried out since 2006, demonstrating the power of art-making to both revive and communicate a culture once considered lost. The project also looks at the art work and experiences of the artist and other Australian Aboriginal women artists, who have dealt with similar histories. It explores their roles as 'cultural warriors' ('Cultural' and 'culture warriors' has been applied in various ways in Aboriginal political and social issues but is used specifically here. See Appendix A for definition) and ambassadors for their people and cultures, and how they have utilised their arts practice from a culturally specific perspective.
The exhibition brings together a range of fibre-based works which have been constructed over the past two and a half years and which respond to the framework set up for this project: the use of continuing practice to disseminate knowledge and revive a culture. The central installation comprises 179 circles of dodder vine chained in groups of ten, surrounding a central woven form encasing a kelp armour. Each group and number of works, together with the materials and techniques used, carries significance within the colonial and more recent histories of cultural crisis for Tasmanian Aboriginals. The central work reflects on the colonial period of 'protection', and will be surrounded by other large scale works, variously exploring issues of hidden language, hidden history and the importance of inter-generational practices for sharing of culture.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:West, VL
Keywords: Basket making, Aboriginal Tasmanians, Cultural property
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Copyright 2008 the author

Additional Information:

No access or viewing until 31 October 2010. Includes bibliographical references. Introduction -- Ch. 1. Resistance and the suppression of cultural expression -- Ch. 2. Survival: baskets and fibre -- Ch. 3. Revival: the reclamation of cultural expression: living culture - tayenebe -- Ch. 4. Cultural warriors and ambassadors: Aboriginal women artists -- Conclusion

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