“a mnemonic device”

“A mnemonic device that triggers our memory” is how the “conceptual producer” (his term, quote: “it was my idea”) of The Aboriginal Memorial, Djon Mundine, would like us to understand the work. Which the National Gallery of Australia’s Senior Curator, Francesca Cubillo introduces as “the most significant Aboriginal work of art in Australia”. At a wide-ranging lecture today on the place of The Aboriginal Memorial in the history of the colonisation of Australia, the frontier wars waged with its Indigenous inhabitants, and in contrast to the much-memorialised histories of other wars, Djon said and showed little that had not been said or seen before, by himself in various publications and forums, and by others. In answer to a question that has been raised in this forum, we were shown a clip of the “singing-in” ceremony by Richard Birrinbirrin and Djon himself which apparently took place in the Gallery the day after the official opening of the new extension. This appeared to be a rather impromptu affair, watched by thirty or forty visitors to the gallery. We were shown no evidence of any institutional reciprocity. The various installations and relocations of The Aboriginal Memorial that have taken place over the last 23 years (other than that in St Petersburg) have always been accompanied by such ceremony. In this instance, however, as the Memorial is located in its final resting place, the ceremony was accorded far less significance, judging by the lack of publicity, and the attendance at the event. Alas Djon made no mention of the new design, or the new materials on which the burial poles now rest. His concluding words were “lest we forget”. Indeed. In question time the need for a comprehensive publication was acknowledged. Those wishing to learn more can find such a study in the excellent MPhil thesis undertaken at the ANU by Susan Jenkins: “It’s a Power; An Interpretation of The Aboriginal Memorial in its Ethnographic, Museological, Art Historical and Political Contexts” (2003). Published by Lambert Academic Publishing.

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