Defining Moments: The Aboriginal Memorial at the Biennale of Sydney with Djon Mundine

Independent curator, activist, writer and member of the Bandjalung people of northern New South Wales, Djon Mundine OAM discusses ‘The Aboriginal Memorial’ at the Biennale of Sydney, 1988 as part of ACCA’s lecture series, Defining Moments: Australian Exhibition Histories 1968–1999.

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.

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.

Video produced by Gatherer Media.