Darkness on the Edge of Town

Clothilde Bullen

At their heart, movements led by the marginalised and dispossessed of western countries—in Australia’s case Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—have a sense of being unheard and unseen, of speaking a different language to the oppressor, the coloniser. The ‘Indigenous Art Movement’—the last great art movement of the twentieth century according to art critic Robert Hughes—is essentially a response by Indigenous artists that communicates critical ideas about essence, belonging, history, politics and human rights. Art in this case can transcend language, bridging multiple groups through non-lingual communication and, most importantly, between those who would seek to colonise and those who resist.

The visual semiotic of contemporary art by Indigenous Australian artists becomes an incredibly persuasive tool for change when reflecting upon identity and depicting immutable connections to country, as well as discussing the narratives of systemic racism and challenging power structures. Indigenous art can take a powerful stance as it relates to the idea that Aboriginal voices and black lives matter. Indigenous artists effectively clarify this concept with works where narrative is characterised by a sense of unapologetically standing in their own truth, and of being at the centre of the world as opposed to being relegated to the margins.

Ian Abdulla
Night Boxing   1992
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 125 x 125cm
Artbank collection, purchased 1992

Christopher Pease
Balga Resin   2008
Balga resin on hessian on canvas, 217 x 303.5cm
Artbank collection, purchased 2008

Indigenous Australians’ lives have been irrevocably affected by the colonial legacies and history of this country. The way in which we have as a people historically been categorised, classified and oppressed, and the ways in which we now embody who we are has a profound effect upon the (at times subconscious) awareness, appreciation and understanding of who we are as a nation. Indigenous art can evoke a more conscious awareness and challenges viewers to consider the lives and concerns of the artists, and by extension all Indigenous Australians.

"we shut out what we don't wish to acknowledge"

Clothilde Bullen

Indigenous Australians have so often in the history of this country been left or pushed to the borders; fringe dwellers on the edge of town, not permitted to be seen after curfew. The title of this essay, “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, alludes to the dark history of present-day Australia lingering in the minds of contemporary colonisers; the same darkness that exists in all of us when we shut out what we don’t wish to acknowledge. On one hand, ‘darkness on the edge’ is a metaphor for Indigenous Australians as dwellers on the outer of western culture—a deceptively powerful position to be placed in if one wishes to critically address relational identity frameworks. After all, it is when you’re ‘at the edge’ that you can survey a particular worldview and utilise the information gained to subvert that perspective. On the other hand, these words refer to the history of Indigenous people as inhabitants of town camps, and to the fearful derision with which groups of Indigenous people were held.


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