The Weight of Grief

Maree Clarke and Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll in conversation about Artist-centricity

The Australian Government through the Australian AIATSIS Renew program is proactively researching collections of Aboriginal material overseas with a view to getting them repatriated. This process has huge potential for contemporary artists making new works to take those places – that’s what Repatriates is working on at present.

There are art works that catalyse a shift in perception, the way that when a powerful thing returns it brings memories to light. That’s what the potential of repatriation has in my mind.

Maree: Yeah that’s really, really good because all those other bits and pieces – first and foremost it’s this ancestral remains and then secret sacred objects – should all come back. But I can’t see in our lifetime all of those other bits and pieces—that just won’t happen. Only secret sacred and human remains, and that’s taking donkey’s years. Considering how long that is taking, I can’t see in my lifetime any objects coming back to community.

You know I’ve been trying for years, and [non-Indigenous Melbourne-based academic] Fran Edmonds and I have been working on projects where we can get funding to take elders from particular communities over to give those objects a community and a story. And tell that bigger story, because in a lot of those museum collections and those little ones, like Saffron Walden, that it’s still got a black fella standing on the rock and everything’s just in there, like the ethnology Museum in Florence, where ‘Australia’ is right next door to Captain Cook’s cabinet, and all the boomerangs together just as ‘boomerangs’. There’s a bigger story that could be told around all of those objects that talks about being a living culture and those objects are connected to you know, the oldest continuous living culture in the world, so how do we tell that through these little museums.

Khadija: in lieu of a conclusion I cansay that this conversation continues, just as the ever more sensitized cross-cultural practices in Australia develop. We plan to put on a future kopi workshop in Vienna in which the processes we articulated here over hours of reflection will be experimented with anew. The ways in which we can collaboratively write (and right) artist-centric art-history are also just unfolding, in publications through Third Text journal focussed on polyphony and this artistic research platform Repatriates. There is so much yet to share and the intimacy and affect you can sense from the lines above take time to gestate into language or material form of the kind we explored here through Maree Clarke’s recent NGV exhibition Maree Clarke:

Ancestral Memories.

The full text will be published in spring 2023 in Cross-Currents in Australian Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Art, Sarah Scott, in Helen McDonald and Caroline Jordan (eds.), London: Routledge, 2023.