Defining Moments: The Aboriginal Memorial at the Biennale of Sydney

Mon 27 Jul 2020

This is a past program.
Available as video and podcast

Lecture Topic: The Aboriginal Memorial, Biennale of Sydney 1988

Speaker: Djon Mundine OAM

In the 1980s, conservatives of all shades in politics were turning against what they perceived to be immoral and untrue academic and artistic texts pursuing themes of revisionism in our national history – a legacy of the 1960s generation of the left. Chief among these issues for debate was the role and place of Australia’s Aboriginal population. Although conflict between Aboriginal and European colonists occurred right from the beginning of the colony, it was not recognised at the time and in subsequent official histories as a ‘war’ in the legal sense: that is, a war was never officially declared at any time over the last 200 years.

It was within this environment of denial that Djon Mundine conceived of the idea for an Aboriginal Memorial. At this time, Mundine was working as the coordinator of the arts and crafts co-operative in the community of Ramingining in Central Arnhem Land.

In this lecture, Mundine reflects on his personal account of the development of the memorial from a series of projects, which involved all sections of the local art community, to the genesis of an idea for a memorial, through to the process of its realisation into the form it took at the 1988 Biennale of Sydney, and it’s subsequent permanent installation in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Djon Mundine OAM is a member of the Bandjalung people of northern New South Wales, and is an independent curator, activist and writer. His career has helped revolutionise the criticism and display of contemporary Aboriginal art, including through prominent curatorial positions held in many national and international institutions, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and Queensland Art Gallery. Between 1979 and 1995 He worked as art advisor at Milingimbi in the Crocodile Islands and at Bula-bula Arts in Ramingining in Arnhem Land where he originated and oversaw the Aboriginal Memorialproject.  In 1993 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the promotion and development of Aboriginal arts, crafts and culture. In 2005-2006 he was Research Professor at The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) in Osaka, Japan.


ACCA’s Lecture Series, Defining Moments: Australian Exhibition Histories 1968–1999, will take a deeper look at the moments that have shaped Australian art since 1968. In the second year of this two-year series, seven more guest lecturers will analyse the game changers in Australian art, addressing key contemporary art exhibitions staged over the last three decades of the twentieth century and reflecting on the ways these exhibitions shaped art history and contemporary Australian culture more broadly.

Ambitious, contested, polemical, genre-defining and genre-defying, contemporary art exhibitions have shaped and transformed the cultural landscape, along with our understanding of what constitutes art itself. This program traces the legacies of artists and curators, addresses the critical reception of selected significant projects, and reflects on a wide range of exhibitions and formats; from artist run initiatives to institutions, as well as interventions in public space and remote communities.

This two-year series is presented in association with Abercrombie & Kent and Research Partner, Centre of Visual Art (CoVA) at The University of Melbourne and supported by Art Guide Australia, The Saturday Paper, Triple R, The Melbourne Gin Company, Capi and the City of Melbourne.


As ACCA is currently closed to support public health measures we will be recording our entire 2020 season and releasing all lectures online as freely available videos and podcasts on ACCA’s website and promoted across our social media channels.

A bespoke cocktail recipe created by The Melbourne Gin Company using Capi will be available alongside each lecture. We  encourage you to make the cocktail with us.

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