Globalisation and Aboriginal Art – who benefits?

I decided to post this as nothing was said about Aboriginal Art and Globalisation at our seminar yesterday, and I think it is a very appropriate area for discussion: 

Globalisation and Aboriginal Art – The consequences to contemporary art of increased connectedness in the world. Heather Jukes

There has been a lot of argument about the exploitation of indigenous Aborigines of Australia for their artwork. Originally (dating back to 40,000 years ago) their art, generally on rock and tree bark in the landscape, was made as ‘story telling’ by and for the Aboriginal people. The work had deep religious significance recounting the ‘Dreamtime’ – the time of origin of the people and the development of their spiritual culture. Since colonisation by Britain, and the displacement of Aborigines, the world has become interested in the Aboriginal cultural past.  Post colonial demand for authentic Aboriginal artwork has recently far outstripped supply and Aborigines have been encouraged/pressed to produce ‘modern traditional’ work which has made dealers and auction houses in Australia and the west, huge profits. The original content and methods have changed as some painters criticised others for depicting secret sacred material; the result has been that a degree of styling has been introduced (particularly in dot paintings) and some of the original integrity has arguably been lost.   

    As Anita Seppa[1] (2010, p 11) wrote in her essay, Globalisation in the Arts:  ‘Through the use of introduced Western materials and techniques, the art of the Aboriginal people began the transition from the religious and private to the public and commercial domain. And all of a sudden, here it was: modern Aboriginal hybrid world art that kept both the ancient traditions alive and transformed these very old aesthetic forms to better fit the criteria and needs of the actual global art scene.    What this transition from “traditional” or “authentic” to “global” also needed was money and international art market. When this factor was effectively linked to the Aboriginal arts during the 1980s and 1990s, art dealers, auction houses, and collectors became an important part of the transformation of the Aboriginal art into a globally celebrated product. A 1989 report on the Department of Aboriginal Affairs has estimated that the Aboriginal art market has exceeded 30 per cent each year in the period from 1979.’ 

Currently there is a new exhibition, Remembering Forward: Australian Aboriginal Painting since 1960 at Cologne’s Museum Ludwig, the premier venue of Modernism in Germany. [2]    

    Will, an American librarian, blogs [3] enthusiastically about this exhibition:Globalization is transformative, and one of the ways that it transformed indigenous expression was by making available the acrylics and canvas–indeed even the cast-off boards and cupboard doors that became the supports for those early artworks.  The Pintupi painters created something new for themselves and for the rest of the world out of the detritus of modern life in Papunya.’ 

    But he also quotes Richard Bell, who draws a distinction between art and the ‘art industry’:    ‘Aboriginal art has become a product of the times. A commodity. The result of a concerted and sustained marketing strategy, albeit one that has been loose and uncoordinated. There is no Aboriginal art industry. There is, however, an industry that caters for Aboriginal art. The key players in that industry are not Aboriginal.  

    Last year, Coca Cola even appropriated Aboriginal art for their bottles [4] – a commodity indeed! 

    This is an uncomfortable area, the art is unquestionably aesthetically beautiful and meaningful (to Aboriginal culture), but the associated colonialism and the current market has dirtied this genre creating unease for many Westerners, in admiring it.

 Images 1, 2, 3 and 4  Ancient (1) and modern (2, 3, 4) Aboriginal art.

Image 5, The Aboriginal Memorial, 1987/88; 200 coffins, one for each year of European settlement, made by 43 indigenous Aborigines, housed in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.   

(Click on individual images to enlarge to facilitate reading captions)                                                                         

Image 1 [5]  








Image 2 [6]











Image 3 (see footnote 6)










Image 4 (see footnote 6) 














Image 5 [7]


postscript – in researching globalisation in art and particularly in searching for images, the word ‘google-isation’ kept coming into my head. Art has been google-ised.

[1] Seppa, A. (2010). Globalisation and the arts: the rise of new democracy, or just another pretty suit for the old emperor? Journal of Aesthetics and Culture [Online] 2 p 1-25. Available from: [Accessed 23/01/11]

This entry was posted in globalisation and art, Heather, tp1011 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Globalisation and Aboriginal Art – who benefits?

  1. `There is no Aboriginal art industry. There is, however, an industry that caters for Aboriginal art. The key players in that industry are not Aboriginal.’ Is this a fact, or an assumption?

    • heather28 says:

      ‘There is no Aboriginal Art Industry……..’ This is a quote from Richard Bell, Aboriginal Artist, accessed at I intended to, but omitted to quote this source in my blog. As an Aboriginal, Bell has strong views on the rights of indigenous Australians. A fuller version of his quote is: ‘Aboriginal Art has become a product of the times. A commodity. The result of a concerted and sustained marketing strategy, albeit, one that has been loose and uncoordinated. There is no Aboriginal Art Industry. There is, however, an industry that caters for Aboriginal Art. The key players in that industry are not Aboriginal. They are mostly White people whose areas of expertise are in the fields of Anthropology and “Western Art”. It will be shown here how key issues inter-relate to produce the phenomenon called Aboriginal Art and how those issues conspire to condemn it to non-Aboriginal control.’ The full essay elaborates on this theme and is, I feel, a powerful statement about the appropriation of art and culture through colonialism.

  2. According to me!

    Globalization for aboriginal art will be a beneficial.

    First of all, this art has complete oldest historical background and large number of variety in paintings which represent the thought of people at that time.

    Finally, in this current age artists are trying to promote this art with the same historical methodology.
    So globalization will be beneficial for this art.

    Thanks for sharing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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