Closing the temporal distance: Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll’s Art in the Time of Colony

Closing the temporal distance: Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll’s Art in the Time of Colony

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  60 Stephen Gilchrist, Sydney  Image courtesy and © Bob Newman Closing the temporal distance   Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll’s  Art in the ime of Colony   61 It is often said that the two animals on the Australian coat of arms, the kangaroo and the emu, both can’t walk backwards. Tis observation has been used metaphorically to describe  Australia’s inability, or rather unwillingness, to engage with its past in meaningful and productive ways. Te great Australian anthropologist William Stanner spoke about this intentional process of disremembering and described it as ‘the Great  Australian Silence’. 1  More often than not, Australian history reflects what we as a nation choose to remember and what and who we are forced to forget. Historical narrative, cul-tural texts and institutions have essentially been weaponised as continued tools of domination and suppression. From an Indigenous perspective, the archive has represented a danger-ous minefield of cultural taboos that many people have been reluctant to confront.In her fascinating 2014 publication  Art in the ime of Colony  , Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll confronts these entangled and overlapping cultural complexities to gather the past into the present. Te historical weight of the archive is unpacked to reveal new narratives, new agencies, new knowledge that include the Indigenous perspectives that were always there, but were dismissed and relegated to the mar-gins. Carroll uses a methodology of ‘anachronism’ to better understand and apprehend the patinas of multiple histories. Tis approach reveals much about the social and art histories of Australia, but also the constitutive histories of empires and modernity. Te result is a welcome addition to the scholar-ship of Indigenous art and the expansionary movement that can be created through a rigorous interdisciplinary approach. In the nineteenth century Indigenous people were expected and were contrived to disappear. Objects of the nineteenth century were often collected as trophies of an evanescing people. When encountering Indigenous objects of the same period within institutions and archives, they are still often presented as objects without people. Carroll’s research speaks into the archive and activates and awakens the voices of Indigenous people, reuniting them not just with their ob- jects but with the practices embedded within these objects. Trough archival research and the community consultations that now characterise the best art-historical and anthropo-logical inquiry, Indigenous practices can be reconstituted. Closing the temporal distance between the then and the now, Carroll uses historic objects, such as south-eastern possum skin cloaks to chronicle their important cultural registers and to examine how they are re-deployed into contemporary elaborations of visual and performative art. Tese important historic objects, of which there are only five surviving in the  world today, provide the basis of a cultural and artmaking resurgence to ensure that it is never lost again. Tis reclama-tion of the past that gestures insistently towards the future is embodied and activated by those born into it. Tus the possum skin cloak in the twenty-first century becomes less of an anachronism, and more of a responsibility to the past, present and future.Te most convenient dismissal of Absrcinal art in the colonial period was to claim that it wasn’t art at all. By choos-ing many objects that have historically been termed material culture, artefact or, in the case of William Barak, tourist art, Carroll is strategically agnostic about defining what art is for her reader. For Indigenous people, art and culture are indivis-ible, becoming both hardware and software, and need to be understood in terms that are interactive and complementary. Te decoupling of Indigenous art from the clutches of an-thropological discourse that occurred in the 1980s (both in  Australia and internationally) was widely seen as an emanci-patory exercise and was loosely based on taxonomies of art and artefact. Art history was thought to be a superior and more flexible category in which to be situated, but it was (is?) never innocent of this primitivising residue.  Art in the ime of Colony   carves out a methodological approach that inter-rogates these disciplinary monopolies and biases, and makes the residue powerfully generative. Invoking and inviting Indigenous participation and values, Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll’s research helps to reconfigure our relationship to the archive and transforms both the archive and future processes of archivisation.  Art in the ime of Colony   goes back and forth through history in order to grapple with objects suspended in time, and poses some of the most important questions of our age. 1. William Stanner, Te Great Australian Silence  , Australian Broadcast-ing Commission, Sydney, 1969 (1974 printing), pp. 24–5: ‘We have been able for so long to disremember the absrcines [sic] that we are now hard put to keep them in mind even when we most want to do so.’Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll,  Art in the ime of Colony  , Ashgate Press, London, 2014, 307 pages, AU$143 —BOOKS—  Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited withoutpermission.
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