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ART SEEN - The Boomerang Effect

ART SEEN // Politics// Art & Culture // Oct. 5, 2017

The Boomerang Effect - Aboriginal Arts in Australia

A review of the temporary exhibition at the Ethnography Museum of Geneva, by Uli Van Neyghem


What:           The Boomerang Effect - Aboriginal Arts in Australia
Where:         MEG - Musée d'ethnographie de Geneve
When:          Until January 7, 2018
Open:           Tuesday - Sunday from 11:00 - 18:00 (closed on Dec 25 and Jan 1)
Fees:            FREE - on the first Sunday of every month. Otherwise Adults CHF 9 (children <18 go free, students / seniors CHF 6) 

Upon his arrival on the Australian continent, James Cook declared it to be "Terra Nullius" (a land belonging to no one). With just one stroke of a pen, colonisation by the British crown was ratified, completely ignoring and marginalising the Aborigine population who had inhabited the vast land for more than 60 000 years.

Thoughtfully placed at the beginning of the exhibition, you'll find a work by artist Michael Cook called "Undiscovered", which takes us right into the centre of the ignorance and arrogance that the native people of the Australian continent were faced with following the arrival of the artist's namesake. 

We gain insights into the ways of this old and wise race, who lived in sustainable harmony with their land, through the exhibits of artfully carved boomerangs, spears or shields.

Boomerangs were used for a wide variety of activities: In addition to hunting and fighting, they were used to cut, dig, make fire by friction or as percussion instruments. 

Far from living isolated from the rest of the world, as the European explorers believed on arrival, the different indigenous groups practised commercial and cultural exchanges between each other and even with overseas populations in Indonesia. The exhibited message sticks (used as memory aids and passports by those who travelled to a foreign territory) bear witness to the rich exchanges existing since the 17th century.

'The Boomerang Effect' mixes antique artefacts with contemporary art in a fresh and very engaging way, revealing the wealth of Aborigine cultural heritage. Paintings on tree bark or canvas, sculptures, installations and photographic art take us deep into the believes, myths and dreams of a people whose identity was continuously tried to be destroyed.

A particularly touching photo series evokes the absent children of the Stolen Generations; showing a mother, always alone, walking behind a pram, or for example sitting on a playground seesaw, the child absent, as if suddenly vanished. The work deals with one of the most painful and shameful chapters of Australian history. Over about a century, more than 50 000 mixed race children were forcibly taken from their families by the Australian government and put into orphanages or white foster homes in a forced 'assimilation' policy.

Project 'Ghostnet' also featured in the exhibition, is an example of how Aborigine culture remains connected to the belief that humans should live in harmony with nature, rather than destroy it. Aborigine artists create giant sea animals from fishing nets that are illegally abandoned by the swimming 'factories' of the fishing industry.  As floating death traps they strangle off the fragile marine fauna and endangered species, many of them playing totem roles in Aborigine myths.

This temporary exhibition in the modern MEG powerfully illustrates, how all attempts to suppress Aboriginal culture since the beginning of colonisation have resulted in having the opposite of the desired result: in a boomerang effect. It has led to a strengthening of identity and a display of incredible creativity. 

A must-see!



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