The artistic traditions of Australia’s Aboriginal people stretches back over 50,000 years. For millennia Aboriginal people have painted on rock faces, created ceremonial objects, and adorned their bodies in sacred designs. From the early 20th century, Indigenous artists began producing art objects to trade and sell, inaugurating a powerful cross-cultural dialogue. In its ability to speak across cultural boundaries without forsaking its distinctive identity, Aboriginal art stands at the forefront of global contemporary art practice.

In this lecture, curator and art historian Henry Skerritt will describe the rise of contemporary Aboriginal art, from the emergence of the modern bark painting movement in 1911, through the rise of Western Desert acrylic painting in the 1970s, culminating in the flourishing and diverse practices of the present. In doing so, he will show how Aboriginal artists have pre-empted many of the critical concerns that dominate contemporary art. The last three decades have seen a remarkable expansion of the global reach of contemporary art. In this lecture, Skerritt will show how Aboriginal Australian artists are staking their claim to participate in this global future of art.

Henry F. Skerritt is a curator and art historian from Perth, Western Australia. He has recently edited the catalogue accompanying the exhibition No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting, on display at PICA. From 2004 to 2009 he was manager of Mossenson Galleries in Melbourne, and in 2011 he curated the exhibition Experimental Gentlemen at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne. Skerritt has written extensively on Aboriginal art and culture, including contributions to the publications Double Desire: Transculturation and Indigenous Contemporary Art (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014), Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2012) and Menagerie: Contemporary Indigenous Sculpture (Object: Australian Design Centre, 2009).

Pictured above: Prince of Wales (Midpul), Body Marks, 1999. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 50 x 41 in. (126 x 105 cm). © Estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd; courtesy Karen Brown Gallery, Darwin, NT.