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An Artefact of Colonial Desire? Kimberley Points and the Technology of Enchantment

Harrison, Rodney

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This paper considers several areas of anthropological research which have yet to be drawn into conversation: Alfred Gell's anthropological theory of art, the literature on collecting and museum studies and the colonial art histories of Nicholas Thomas and others, and the archaeology of colonialism in Australia. The implications of the nexus of these various areas of research are considered with reference to the archaeological study of Kimberley points in Australia. While these points have been...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorHarrison, Rodney
dc.date.accessioned2015-12-07T22:25:20Z
dc.identifier.issn0011-3204
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/21227
dc.description.abstractThis paper considers several areas of anthropological research which have yet to be drawn into conversation: Alfred Gell's anthropological theory of art, the literature on collecting and museum studies and the colonial art histories of Nicholas Thomas and others, and the archaeology of colonialism in Australia. The implications of the nexus of these various areas of research are considered with reference to the archaeological study of Kimberley points in Australia. While these points have been understood by both archaeologists and antiquarians as the pinnacle of Australian Aboriginal stone working practices, this paper considers them as an artefact of colonial desire. Their captivating agency for late-nineteenth-century collectors largely resided in their mysterious method of manufacture, but even after this was understood they continued to enthral antiquarians and archaeologists, who have come to represent their manufacture as "typical" of Australian Aboriginal stone tool working despite its limited chronological and geographic distribution and its relationship to colonial trade. The acceptance of these objects, which essentially functioned as virtuoso tourist art, by colonial collectors and archaeologists as "authentic" ethnographic objects within a discourse which would normally be prejudiced against such items suggests that Aboriginal people engaged actively in this process of captivation - indeed, that the agency of such virtuoso objects continued long after the lifetimes of their makers, as Gell suggested. This has wider implications for an understanding of both archaeology and colonial collecting and the relationship between objects and identity in settler societies and provides an opportunity to reflect on the usefulness of Gell's work in colonial contexts.
dc.publisherUniversity of Chicago Press
dc.sourceCurrent Anthropology
dc.titleAn Artefact of Colonial Desire? Kimberley Points and the Technology of Enchantment
dc.typeJournal article
local.description.notesImported from ARIES
local.identifier.citationvolume47
dc.date.issued2006
local.identifier.absfor210101 - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology
local.identifier.absfor210204 - Museum Studies
local.identifier.absfor190199 - Art Theory and Criticism not elsewhere classified
local.identifier.ariespublicationu3811332xPUB16
local.type.statusPublished Version
local.contributor.affiliationHarrison, Rodney, College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU
local.description.embargo2037-12-31
local.bibliographicCitation.issue1
local.bibliographicCitation.startpage63
local.bibliographicCitation.lastpage88
local.identifier.doi10.1086/497673
dc.date.updated2015-12-07T09:34:59Z
local.identifier.scopusID2-s2.0-33646267208
CollectionsANU Research Publications

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