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Contemporary Aboriginal art and the cultural landscapes of urban Australia

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 09:59 authored by Shield, RIA, Loo, S

Place identity in Australia is currently in a state of flux, owing to the decentralization of cultural landscapes through urbanization. Indigenous caring for landscape has always been associated with the originary condition of Australian wilderness. This paper argues that an understanding of place identity in Australia can arrive from a reassessment of national cultural landscapes, both wild and urban, when we take seriously the imbrications of colonial and Indigenous landscape practices. It does this through an investigation of contemporary Indigenous art, focusing in particular on the work of artist Michael Jagamara Nelson. His work allowed Indigenous art to become recognized as significant in regards to place identity, referencing the alternate cultural markings within the landscape. The argument also draws on Bill Gammage's observation that Australian wilderness landscapes are not 'pristine' but have already been manipulated by Indigenous people for many millennia, having created clearings, green belts, forests and edges, through the acts and rituals of marking and designing landscape. Aboriginal art is expressive of land practice, which is not purely farming, but a way of life: it is spiritual, human and natural.

Through the reading of Michael Jagamara Nelson's artworks as expressive of the figures spatial identity within the Australian landscape, the paper demonstrates the need for a shift from a technological to a cultural reading of landscape. The paper proceeds to demonstrate that contemporary urban landscapes can be read in a similar fashion to Indigenous cultural landscapes. Inscribed by humans and the choreography of their gestures. Journeys within the urban grid, between its edges, making markings and patterns, making up the rituals of movement implicates the cultural landscapes of urban Australia.


Publication title

Proceedings of the 12th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference


M Gjerde, E Petrovic






School of Architecture and Design


Australasian Urban History/Planning History Group and Victoria University of Wellington

Place of publication

Wellington, New Zealand

Event title

Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference (UHPH 14): Landscapes and Ecologies of Urban and Planning History

Event Venue

Wellington, New Zealand

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Rights statement

Copyright unknown

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in built environment and design

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