n De Arte - More than skin and bones : a recent Australian public art project re-evaluating history - research

Volume 54 Number 2
  • ISSN : 0004-3389
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This article examines two projects by Jonathan Jones, an Australian artist of Wiradjuri/ Kamilaroi descent. The first addresses a series of works that honour William Barak, an artist and freedom fighter from the Coranderrk region of outer Melbourne, Victoria. Barak’s tenacity in challenging the colonial authorities is inadvertently matched by Jones, whose projects on the theme commenced in 2010 and are ongoing. The second project, barrangal dyara (skin and bones), was the 32nd John Kaldor Public Art Project, a temporary installation in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden in 2016. Jones chose the site where the Garden Palace had been erected for the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition. When the building burnt down in 1882, a collection of art and weapons from south-east Australia was lost. While the Garden Palace had positioned Western culture as triumphalist and Aboriginal culture as primitive and doomed, Jones recast the exhibition’s legacy to critique cultural exchange over time, and to showcase Aboriginal cultural revival in the south-east. Grand in vision and subtle in realisation, his project included symposia, the installation of 15 000 gypsum shields, recorded language and kangaroo grasses, a smoking (cleansing) ceremony, song, and dance. This article situates Jones’s work within a broader field that critiques mainstream history and its familiar tropes of monuments and memorials. It argues that historians and artists have led the way in foregrounding new perspectives on Aboriginal history and ways of being. Finally, the author argues that Jones’s multi-sensory strategies invite comparison with intangible heritage, a concept largely overlooked by art historians.

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