Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Details

McLean, I. A. (2009). Historicity and Aboriginal art: how long will it take for Aboriginal art to become modern?. In J. Anderson (Eds.), Crossing Cultures: Conflict, Migration and Convergence: The Proceedings of the 32nd International Congress in the History of Art (pp. 922-925). Melbourne: Miegunyah Press.


Words are generally malleable, ambivalentsymbols. Sometimes they stretch so much as toupturn their original meaning. Take the exampleof 'contemporary', which in recent times hasbeen applied to Australian Aboriginal art-a typeof art that for most of the twentieth century hadbeen considered archaic, anachronistic, the veryopposite of contemporary. However, not all wordsare so supple. A few select terms congeal into hardinstruments of ideology, their symbolic powerbeing wielded like a sword. These words are usuallyvery important to the ideology of the day, and areeasily recognised by the censorial antinomies theyrigorously enforce. 'Modern' is such a term: it setsthe new against the old. To be modern is not justto be contemporary but also to reject the old. Forexample, it distinguished 'modern' Europeansfrom the rest of the world that, it was said, stillclung to primitive superstitions. In this way itserved European power and imperialism.