The living archive of Aboriginal art

Developing a digital living archive where Indigenous artists can connect their work in ways reflecting Indigenous worldviews.

Artwork by Maree Clarke
Artwork: Maree Clarke, Born of the Land, 2014
Reproduced with permission of the artist

Culture is produced and negotiated as living, ongoing and dynamic. Many Aboriginal artists' work reflects the complexities of Indigenous knowledge systems. Despite digital technologies and archiving practices that allow Indigenous communities globally to engage with and retrieve cultural information (e.g. Ara Irititja, Murkurtu), there is nowhere Indigenous artists can digitally register, control and link-up their work/artworlds in ways reflecting Indigenous worldviews.

For example, MuttiMutti/YortaYorta Boonwurrung/WembaWemba artist Maree Clarke is a leading figure in revivifying her Ancestors’ material culture. Her art practice incorporates individual and collective engagement in making possum-skin cloaks, kangaroo-tooth necklaces and river-reed body adornments; responding to her cultural heritage and often inspired by Ancestral objects in collecting institutions/archives. Many of Maree’s artworks are held in museum/gallery collections, but have not been registered in ways that encapsulate the interconnectedness of the storytelling, performance, knowledge of/relationships to Country and intergenerational knowledge exchange involved in their ‘making’. Such interconnectedness is significant in supporting Aboriginality and addressing social, emotional and cultural determinants of health.

This project investigates the idea of a digital ‘living archive’ as a way to support such interconnections, including by rethinking the archive as a place where knowledge/information is retrieved, stored and preserved as representations of cultural value; refiguring it as an active, creative and collaborative space for knowledge production. A ‘living archive’ – rather than a closed/static system – is flexible, dynamic and interactive and seeks to support artist/community control of data and knowledge from Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums (GLAMs).

The living archive responds to research conducted by Asociate Professor Richard Chenhall and Dr Fran Edmonds during the recent ARC Linkage Project Aboriginal young people in Victoria and Digital Storytellingwhich found that despite Aboriginal people having increasing access to and engagement with cultural heritage through digital archives, archival systems have limited capacity to reflect a non-linear, interactive ‘living archive’ that adequately responds to Indigenous worldviews.

Associate Professor Richard Chenhall [Melbourne School of Population and Global Health]

Associate Professor Gavan McCarthy [Academic Services and Registrar]

Dr Sharon Huebner [Melbourne School of Population and Global Health]

Dr Rimi Khan [School of Culture and Communication]

Dr Sally Treloyn [Wilin Centre]

Dr Greg Wadley [School of Computing and Information Systems]

Dr Fran Edmonds [Melbourne School of Population and Global Health]

Kirsten Thorpe [Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Studies, University of Technology Sydney]

Maree Clarke [Wyndham City Council]

Dr Sabra Thorner [Mt Holyoke College, Massachusetts, USA]

Vivien Anderson [Vivien Anderson Gallery]

For information about this project, please contact:

Dr Fran Edmonds
Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
Phone:  +61 3 9035 9707
Email: edmondsf@unimelb.edu.au