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Vanessa

Vanessa Russ

Year of Award: 2014 Award State: Western Australia Arts - Visual > Administration
To investigate how public art galleries construct and represent national identity - USA, Hong Kong, Singapore
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Decolonising the art museums of the future is a major challenge facing public art galleries in Australia today. These spaces were derived from notions of civilising the working classes and colonising the continents with a European aesthetic sensibility. Argued as universal in its appreciation of art, displayed in what many consider to be almost utopian spaces, public art galleries carry on a heavily nationalistic imagery that both aligns these galleries to Europe whilst defining a new Australian identity that in itself is also aligned to Europe.

It questions the idea of diversity and multiculturalism, especially as our demographics changes, but more so as the art of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were included in their collections, changing art history but failing to influence or shift notions of national identity. It raises the issue as being a sign of disconnect that public art galleries have to the public today, so heavily focused on the art of Europe created a cultural cringe, something in the social psyche of the country that suggests we are not good enough and keeps us looking to Europe and America for guidance and thereby influencing our sense of national identity even more.

If an Australian in 1901 was a Caucasian male with direct links to Britain at the dawn of federation, where does that leave Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or Asian Australians for that matter? For the most part, these institutions remain symbolic of an English aristocratic dominance and a value system that uplifted the white and suppressed all of difference, Australian Aboriginal, Native American Indian, African American and Latino American, for example, as others outside of the mainstream. The inclusion of others within our national identity remains a vexed and unsettled issue, and in public art galleries to some extent they remain invisible.

My project sets a similar line of investigation to earlier research I did for my dissertation on state art galleries in Australia and Australian Aboriginal art. However on this occasion I aimed to broaden my research to include major art museums in the United States, Hong Kong and Singapore, as each face a similar challenge in representations of national identity today, beyond European influence.

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