Sabancı Üniversitesi


Cultural Studies Seminar: Sabra Thorner (New York University)


Sabancı University

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences



Black to Blak: Boomalli Aboriginal Artists’ Cooperative and the Inception of an Indigenous Photo-Media Art Movement



Sabra Thorner
PhD candidate
New York University
Department of Anthropology and Program in Culture & Media



Wednesday, 14 March 2012
15:30 - 17:00
FASS 2034



            Boomalli Aboriginal Arts Cooperative was founded in 1987 by 10 artist-activists in Sydney, Australia, and quickly came to exemplify a unique convergence of art and politics.  The founders mobilized visual media—photography, film/video, printmaking, and painting—in order to destabilize stereotypical notions of Indigeneity shaping the Australian national imaginary; redefine the parameters of high art; and claim Sydney as a cosmopolitan center from which to participate in international exchanges of ideas.  With creativity and conviction, they forged a generation of successful, dynamic cultural brokers in art practice, curatorship, media activism, and academia.   


            In this seminar, I examine how photo-media artists strategize and play with the representational nature of the photographic image to interrogate dominant structures of race, class, spirituality, and gender, asserting an alternative “blak” sensibility in both visual and social practice.  Building on philosopher-photographer Ariella Azoulay’s notion of visual citizenship, I argue that these Indigenous cultural activists are producing a new archive, increasing the visibility of peoples long ignored, marginalized, or confined to stereotypes; insisting on a shared social world among photographer, photographed subject, and viewer; redefining the power-structures of history-making; and urging us to re-imagine what the photograph shows of our life together.  The orthographic shift from “black” to “blak” indexes the significance of Indigenous control over the production and circulation of myriad representational forms in creating new cultural futures.


            This emergent movement in Indigenous photography is characterized by paradox: cultural activists struggle to establish the legitimacy of urban Indigenous identities, even as their work benefits from the increasingly normative recognition of Aboriginal painting as a genre of high art.  By juxtaposing a turbulent institutional history with the production of stunning, evocative works of art, I emphasize the grandeur of this Cooperative’s accomplishments: changing the terms according to which Indigenous people are visible and known in Australia today.

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