Lest We Forget

Am I alone in thinking there’s something a bit off about the National Gallery of Australia’s happy snaps design approach to branding? Is this how we are to EXPERIENCE THE BIG PICTURE? What’s On, you may well ask.

Here’s four variations on the way the NGA has represented itself through the imagery of burial poles, that is, via the reproduction of details of The Aboriginal Memorial.

Both in its old and new (begravelled) guise, the Aboriginal Memorial is now made to stand for the Gallery as a whole.

Is this another subtle form of desanctification? It’s not until you get to the second last page of this Canberra Times promotional insert that you are reminded why this is The Aboriginal Memorial. When you read the opening words of Djon Mundine’s essay (reprinted from the NGA’s ‘treasures of the collection’ book): “Since 1788 at least 300,000, perhaps a million, Aboriginal people have died at the hands of white invaders.” Now that’s the big picture… In respect of which, perhaps it’s time to suggest the NGA backs off its current branding strategy? (And remove the gravel while they’re at it?)

P.S. Lest you think I’m suffering from hyperbole, this is not the first time the invocation “lest we forget” has been used in relation to The Aboriginal Memorial. According to Susan Jenkins’ account, these words are to be found on the back cover of the explanatory brochure produced by Ramingining Arts (and sanctioned by the Gallery) when it was first installed in the NGA in September 1988.


#1 vanessa on 10.22.10 at 10:15 am

I really love reading your ongoing critical analysis of the (old school museum separate wing) indigenous galleries of the NGA. The lorrkon have literally been sucked into the commercial vortex of image politics, although this probably doesn’t dampen the sense of pride the artists no doubt feel having their work celebrated by the NGA (whatever the real motivations may be).

#2 byrd on 11.02.10 at 12:28 pm

I don’t know that prides the right emotional pointer here. Trepidation earlier perhaps at the surrender of an object to/for the authoring of new meanings. Sadness at its Inevitability. Wariness at having made it onto/into the cultural record and no longer controlling the reading of the objects.
I dunno, will the original intentions outlive the contemporary ,um ,uses/readings so reliant as they are on context?

#3 shane hetherington on 02.09.13 at 8:12 pm

Which inspired curator placed these poles on a road base of blue metal? It is a curatorial disaster and is a total distraction from the poles themselves. The colour is a the opposite of the ochre and natural pigment of the poles themselves. The windy concrete path through the middle trivialises the whole effect, reducing the work to a formal aesthetic experience. They have no space to be viewed from a distance (unless viewed from the cloak room). The people running the place seem to have no idea what to do with them. Such a shame as they are probably the best work they have.

#4 Nigel on 02.10.13 at 8:53 am

The Director Ron Radford takes responsibility for this decision. If you track back through related posts you will find his letter, in which he explains the blue metal was used to match the “palette” of the surrounding floor. Shame indeed…

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