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Nyoongar Identity and the Art of Christopher Pease

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Abstract and Figures

This Master thesis explores the art and life of Christopher Pease. Written in the form of a monograph, I explore Pease's life and a selection of his artworks, focusing on his paintings connected to Western Australia's south coast and his Nyoongar heritage. The reader will gain an understanding of the politics of Aboriginal identity within an Australian postcolonial context and about Pease's identity in relation to his Australian upbringing. I provide an analysis of how Pease's art is linked to Western modes of painting and extending existing scholarly research on Nyoongar nation art and cultural practices.
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This paper presents a formal analysis of the two known rock art sites in the Esperance region of Western Australia - Marbaleerup and Boyatup - and compares and contrasts them with the characteristics of 43 other known rock art sites in the Noongar lands. The Esperance region lies at the eastern edge of the traditional lands of the Noongar people, a language and landholding group who occupy the southwest corner of the Australian continent - Noongar country. The peripheral location of the Esperance Nyungar lands and their proximity to neighbouring non-Noongar groups gives rise to questions about how its rock art compares to other Noongar rock art. The analysis seeks to determine the prominent formal characteristics of the art at Marbaleerup and Boyatup: do they share some or all of the characteristics of Noongar rock art? The results suggest that Esperance Nyungar rock art is consistent with that clustered around the north-eastern periphery of Noongar country. On this basis we propose the existence of an Eastern Noongar rock art tradition.
Thesis
Over the past decade, some of the most celebrated art to emerge from Australia has been the work of a group of Indigenous artists whose practice has been instrumental in relocating Indigenous experience and establishing an Indigenous sense of place within the complex social, political and cultural landscape of contemporary Australia. Their work is rooted in the urban Indigenous art movement that swept across the southeast of Australia in the mid-1980s. Like many artists once on the periphery of mainstream artistic narratives, however, these artists have benefited from globalisation, and they now find their work in the evolving discussions of contemporary art worldwide. No other group of artists has offered a more thorough or far-reaching artistic investigation of the history and lived experience of Indigenous Australians since colonisation, yet their work continues to be overlooked as a core area of academic inquiry. This thesis seeks to both illuminate its cultural significance and to state the case for continued art historical research on work tied to the narrative of Australia’s shared history. It does so through an in-depth reading of artworks produced by Vernon Ah Kee, Tony Albert, Brook Andrew, Daniel Boyd, Dianne Jones, Christopher Pease and Christian Thompson since 2000. At the forefront of these pieces are narratives underlining the subjugation of Australia’s Indigenous history, the intergenerational impact of colonisation and its legacy and the continued misrepresentations by others of Indigenous people and culture.