Danie Mellor

1971 - Materially Cultured (an allegorical scene of a bastard history) 2008 earthenware, taxidermy, bone, bead, mixed media and light display 120 x 95 cm (base) Collection Shepparton Art Museum, acquired through the 2009 Indigenous Ceramic Art Award, Winner - First Prize 2009.2.1 - 205

Artist’s Statement

Materially Cultured (an allegorical scene of a bastard history) talks about the commodification of Aboriginal art and culture, questions the legitimacy of the historical. A bicornial basket (bala wular), which was made by men and women in the rainforests of northern Queensland from lawyer cane, holds a feast of witchetty grubs (jambun), and rests on a display of boomerangs and stone axe heads (yuralbarra and barri). Perched on the basket is a cockatoo (gayambula) – this is my grandmother’s totem, and the totem of theMamu and Jirrbal language groups. Sitting inside the basket is also a glass bead encrusted skull, and attached to the outer skin of the basket is an illuminated dollar sign. These last two elements speak of human presence and disembodiment of groups of people, and the sacrifice and cost of colonial expansion, and the treasure and rewards that were reaped by the dominant culture.

Aboriginal culture was recently commodified in specific ways following Australia’s colonization.  Material culture entered the theatre of the museum; it became a currency of sorts against which Aboriginal people were measured and classified, it was ascribed ‘value’, a value linked with science, social theory and money. In this work, the basket, besides being an important object in Aboriginal culture generally, is analogous with the experience of the cultural activity of shopping and the  virtual ‘basket’ used for purchases on the internet – it is a ‘collection’ piece, the ultimate purchasing tool.  The cockatoo, although it is a taxidermy piece and linked with the museological, indicates the presence of nature, and symbolizes the holistic and integrated qualities of Aboriginal culture.  

Read more about the Indigenous Ceramic Award (formerly the Indigenous Ceramic Art Award).