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  3. Protecting Australian Indigenous art
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  6. Ownership among groups
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Ownership among groups

An important effect of the practice of art is that it enhances the sense of cultural ownership that is held by Aboriginal practitioners and their communities. It is notable that the new wave of Aboriginal art in remote communities has carried with it a significant proportion of older people. Often without formal training, these people have been able to reassert their place as elders and give further expression to the task of keeping and transmitting knowledge. (This is particularly important given that, on average, the Aboriginal population is significantly younger than the rest of Australia’s peoples.)

At the same time, younger people have found art to be one important means of laying claim to their cultural heritage. Lin Onus, for example, began painting at the age of 26:

I realised that by the time I left school at thirteen I had absorbed everyone else’s history and values but not those that were rightfully my own. The school system was insensitive and uncaring for Koories and I now realise that one of my greatest motivations is a fear of inferiority … My relationship with the Wunuwun family and my visits to Gamerdi are the most important influence on my painting now. For the first time I feel I am truly painting for my people …

- Lin Onus (quoted in Isaacs, 1992)

At the age of 32, Brownyn Bancroft wrote:

The things that I create are all personal stories, some understood, some not … I just allow my creative drive to take me on continuous journeys that enable me to tell stories from what is instinctively in my heart. The journey to be human, to feel, to be Koori.

(Bancroft, 1990)

Another change accompanying the commercial popularity of Aboriginal art forms has been the increased participation of women. This has been an especially important development in the more remote areas, where male roles have so far tended to be given more recognition and exposure. Equally, it has provided a way for women to declare the ownership over knowledge and symbolism that they have always had:

In the traditional context, women found a variety of ways of expressing themselves, not just as nurturers of children and important economic producers, but also as singers, dancers and sometimes painters and carvers in the ritual domain. As landowners, women from a variety of different groups owned or managed, along with the men, a body of ritual knowledge relating to their land. This was well illustrated during a number of land claim hearings in central Australia, where the women demonstrated their ownership of country by ‘painting up’ and performing their own ceremonies for the Aboriginal Land Commissioner.

- M West, ‘Aboriginal Women as Artists’, in McGuigen (ed)

In remote areas today, most Aboriginal art and craftwork is produced by women. Some women have attained new authority; for example, bark painters Namiyal Bopirri and Dorothy Djukulul have been permitted by fathers or other male relatives to paint subject matter that is usually confined to male elders and their sons.

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