Counter-monuments: Indigenous settler relations in Australian contemporary art and memorial practices

Zoom, Free

Wed 17 – Fri 19 March 2021, 4-5:30pm

Increasingly in the news we read about troubling imperial statues being challenged, defaced, recontextualised, toppled and removed. There is mounting evidence that memorials, as well as contemporary and public artworks, have become a significant locus for inciting debate and action on difficult histories of colonial violence and ongoing institutionalised racism.

In Australia, artists, historians and theorists routinely note the contradictions in public remembrances and monuments that tend to honour white lives over Indigenous ones, as well as observing active occlusions and suppressions of the violence of colonialism in public presentations of the past. Concurrently, many contemporary Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian artists have experimented with inventive visual forms and public modes of expression to contest dominant settler narratives and distorted histories. There are now a wealth of examples and strategies to draw on to consider how the Australian public’s view of colonial history and its legacies is confronted and transformed through creative counter-monument practice. The discourse and debates stimulated by such art practices are also critical occasions to appraise contemporary Indigenous settler relations in Australia. 

This symposium offers unique insights into the process of creating artworks in response to difficult and violent colonial histories: from failed and rejected artwork proposals, and tense negotiations and compromises with commissioners, to the consideration of Indigenous approaches to memorialisation, as well as the different roles played by public memorials, and the ways in which public art serves to both educate and confront uninformed settler publics whilst producing spaces of remembrance and healing for Indigenous people. With case studies and critical presentations by a range of artists and researchers from the fields of history, public and contemporary art, critical race, museum and heritage studies, the symposium contributes to important debates regarding the public acknowledgement of difficult colonial histories and the decolonisation of dominant settler narratives, institutions and symbols. 

Speakers include: Paola Balla, Lilly Brown, Dr Fiona Foley, Kate Golding, Dr Julie Gough, Genevieve Grieves, Dianne Jones, Djon Mundine OAM, Dr Odette Kelada, Dr Clare Land, Carol Que, Dr Amy Spiers, Joel Sherwood Spring and Unbound Collective.

Genevieve Grieves and Dr Amy Spiers have developed this program in partnership with the Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration (ISRC), University of Melbourne, Contemporary Art and Social Transformation (CAST), RMIT, and with assistance from the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. ACCA is pleased to host this symposium as part of the 2020-22 research, publication and exhibition project Who’s Afraid of Public Space? 

These sessions will be live Auslan interpreted. The video recordings will be available with Auslan interpretation and closed captioning on ACCA’s website, from Thursday 25 March. Podcast recordings of these sessions will also be made available after 25 March.


Session One: Wednesday 17 March, 4-5.30pm
Genevieve Grieves and Dr Amy Spiers
Dr Julie Gough
Dr Clare Land and Paola Balla, with Kate Golding
Followed by audience Q&A

Session Two: Thursday 18 March, 4-5:30pm
Dr Fiona Foley
Carol Que and Joel Sherwood Spring
Dianne Jones, Dr Odette Kelada and Lilly Brown
Followed by audience Q&A

Session Three: Friday 19 March, 4-5:30pm
Unbound Collective
Djon Mundine OAM
Followed by audience Q&A and closing remarks

Presenting partners:

Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration (ISRC), University of Melbourne

Contemporary Art and Social Transformation (CAST), RMIT

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

Genevieve Grieves and Dr Amy Spiers have developed this program with assistance from the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.