Boundaries between individual and communal authorship of Aboriginal art in context of Clifford Possum’s Tjapaltjarri’s art and the case of RvO’Loughlin (2001)
AuthorSchmidt, Sarah Margaret
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2021-10-29.
© 2019 Sarah Margaret Schmidt
ABSTRACT This research concerns the oeuvre of Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri in the context of art fraud. Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri was an Anmatyerr man (c.1932 – 2002). His art was the subject of Australia’s first criminal law prosecution for fraud over Aboriginal art: R v John Douglas O’Loughlin (2001) unreported NSWDC, 23 Feb 2001. The research examines boundaries between individual and communal authorship of Aboriginal art in the context of this case. The case is used to highlight changing boundaries around authorship of Aboriginal art. Communal art practiced in the Papunya region changed with the birth of the Western Desert art movement. Individual authorship became prominent in attribution. Artists such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri became famous in their own right. In 2004, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Clifford Possum was celebrated with the first retrospective of a Papunya Tula artist in an Australian public gallery, an exhibition spanning thirty years of his work. This research claims that the cultural tensions for individual artists such as Clifford Possum, raised by this change, have been seldom noted and are highlighted especially by art fraud. The boundaries between individual and communal authorship are measured by looking at representation of those boundaries by the artist, his community, museums, the art market, and the law. With the development of contemporary Aboriginal art, I argue that the art market and also public galleries have insufficiently acknowledged the communal basis of traditional Aboriginal art, at least up until the present decade. Fred Myers’ pivotal text ‘Painting Culture’ (2002) and Vivien Johnson’s art histories on Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Western Desert art are central to this project with Myers’ work providing the key intellectual leadership on the topic. I look at recent writing drawn from an Aboriginal perspective, for example by curators Luke Taylor and Hetti Perkins. The work of anthropologists Elizabeth Coleman and Eric Michaels also provides an important topic-specific context on art fraud surrounding Indigenous art in Australia and links concepts of authenticity with critical theory. Literature on authorship, including by Foucault, is consulted although not designed as a key framework for this thesis. The conclusion was that although boundaries around individual and communal authorship of Aboriginal art may have changed, the O’Loughlin case failed to acknowledge the two modes of authorship, and further to this, current Australian law is lacking in protecting Indigenous cultural property and collective authorship around Aboriginal art.
KeywordsAboriginal Art; Indigenous Australian Art; Western Desert Art; Australian art; Art fraud; Art history; Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri; Traditional Knowledge; Law; Intellectual Property; Cultural Property; Authorship
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