Encounters with Legacy Images: Decolonising and Re-imagining Photographic Evidence from the Colonial Archive

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By way of a dialogue between the two authors – an artist and an art historian – this article reflects on the artistic method of repurposing the colonial archive, in
particular the vast collection of photographs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples. Important contexts for this work include the international practice, established in the 1990s amongst artists, communities, and museums, of addressing hidden histories of war and genocide in the public sphere. In
Australia, this included challenging colonial visions and the damaging history of
representing First Nations peoples. At the same time, Australian colonial archives increasingly became more accessible and an important cultural and political resource for First Nations peoples. This article considers both the debate around cultural protocols of Indigenous knowledge that has emerged in the last twenty years and the relentless ideology of primitivism that has restricted the visibility of Indigenous loss. Pervading these developments has been the persistent emotional, historical, and political dilemma of how artists access these archives and produce decolonial readings of the ‘mess’ and trauma of colonial events.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-238
Number of pages22
JournalHistory of Photography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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