Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Boomerang Effect

Aboriginal Knotwork from an exhibit in Australian National Museum in 2008-Lucey Bowen. Perhaps the artistic seed that grew into the ghost net creatures.

     Tuesdays are our new day for exploring together. Yesterday we went to Geneva, and took in an exhibit at the Ethnography Museum of Geneva: L'effet boomerang.

     My training as an art historian and an anthropologist has made me very critical of museums of any sort. I find they tell me more about the obsessions of collectors than they do about the collection.
     L'effet boomerang is different, possibly the best exhibition I've ever seen.
Constructed jointly by the museum and contemporary Aboriginal artists and thinkers, the story gets told from multiple perspectives.
     For starters, signage sets the context of the display, Les arts Aborigenes d'Australie, with the statement "the endeavors to suppress aboriginal culture from the 18th century have ended up having the opposite effect."
     Instead, "Attempts at acculturation and generalized denigration have led to strengthened identity, demands and displays of unprecedented creativity." The result is that aboriginal artists today have found their own ways of using their art for political ends.

     I suppose that my reaction to the exhibit says a lot about my obsession. I suppose I am obsessed by the idea that those in power hoard the production of the powerless. Montreux loves jazz, but doesn't treat Africans very well; Americans love rap, and send African American youth to death or jail.

     The exhibition presents the history of European interventions in Australia, and the parallel acquisition of Aboriginal art and artifacts by museums throughout the world.
     In the next space, fabulous examples cover the geographic and sequential variations in the tradition. The use of modern materials is explored, most extraordinarily in the re-creation of giant models of sharks and other fish, using ghost nets, those scraps of discarded industrial fishnet which have caused the death of many sea creatures.
     The final section is a multi-media installation by a young artist, who touches on the complicated questions of ownership and ethics in the art market of Aboriginal work.

     The Boomerang Effect. Unintended consequences. Be careful what you wish for.

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