Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of the Arts, English and Media


Indigenous art first received widespread attention in the contemporary art world in the 1980s, when major institutions expanded their collections of it, and Indigenous curators were appointed at state museums and galleries. Ever since, Australian Indigenous art has been gradually accepted as a cultural practice in the public and institutionalised sphere. This shift bridged contemporary Indigenous and Western cultural domains, nonetheless, Indigenous art was a type of art that the West has been largely resistant to admitting as contemporary art. This thesis explores the relationship between the contemporary art world and Indigenous art from remote Australia. It argues that the field of contemporary art is sufficiently malleable to allow room for critiques of colonisation and patriarchy, nonetheless, there are challenges facing how Indigenous art is exhibited within that context, including de-contextualisation and a persisting Western art historical narrative, as demonstrated in the case studies considered in this thesis research.

The inclusion of Indigenous art in several influential exhibitions in the late 20th and early 21st centuries is investigated in this thesis. These exhibitions span Magicians of the Earth, curated by Jean-Hubert Martin in 1989 in Paris, to Okwui Enwezor’s 2015 Venice Biennale All the World’s Futures. This thesis critically examines these influential large-scale contemporary art exhibitions that featured the work of Indigenous artists, as well as discusses various approaches to exhibiting Indigenous art, cultivated by Indigenous and non-Western curators. This research indicates that the curatorial profession is still lacking in Indigenous voices and perspectives. Through discussion of the pioneering curatorial work of Djon Mundine, Hetti Perkins, Stephen Gilchrist and other Indigenous curators, this thesis demonstrates how their cultural knowledge and practice endows them with broader frames of reference for presenting Indigenous art to the public. A central argument is that Indigenous curators are vital for the exhibition of Indigenous art in a contemporary art context, as they are well placed to highlight the cultural, social and geographical contexts in which Indigenous art is made. This research also extends to analyse the novel theorisation and curation of non-Western and Australian Indigenous art in the work of Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian-American curator, whose globalist standpoint offers new perspectives to exhibiting Indigenous art within and outside Australia.

FoR codes (2008)

190102 Art History, 190103 Art Theory, 190101 Art Criticism



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.