Flags and landscapes: border art from the
To cite this article: Darren Jorgensen (2018) Flags and landscapes: border art from the Australian
goldfields, World Art, 8:2, 207-224, DOI: 10.1080/21500894.2018.1522370
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/21500894.2018.1522370
Published online: 21 Sep 2018.
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Flags and landscapes: border art from the Australian
Design School, University of Western Australia, West Australia, Perth, Australia
In 1993, eighty-five paintings from the Australian mining town of
Kalgoorlie, executed with cheap paints on cardboard and canvas
board, were exhibited in San Diego by the Border Art Workshop/
Taller de Arte Fronteriza (BAW/TAF). By the 1990s, the BAW/TAF
was well known for making border art, a term that described art
about living on the borderlands of Mexico and the United States.
This exhibition of art by the so-called ‘fringe dwellers’ of Australia,
Aboriginal people who were living poor on the outskirts of Kalgoorlie,
suggests that like border theory, border art is a concept relevant
outside North America, and that borders are not only constructed
between countries, but within them. In Australia there is an infranational
border between Indigenous and settler populations, between
races, and this border is inscribed in these paintings. For these
artists of Kalgoorlie chose above all to paint Aboriginal flags
and landscapes, envisaging their sovereignty and land rights within
the Australian nation-state. The paintings also testify to the
cosmopolitan, inter-Aboriginal society on the fringes of Kalgoorlie, as
desert people mix with local Wongathi and Noognar and Yamatji to
the east. Kalgoorlie is not only a frontier town hosting settler and
Indigenous populations, but an Aboriginal diaspora that has become
unsettled since colonisation.
Keywords: border art; Aboriginal art; Australian art; outsider art; art
therapy; border theory; Kalgoorlie; Carrolup
In 1993, eighty-five paintings from the Australian town of Kalgoorlie, executed
with cheap paints on cardboard and canvas board, were exhibited in
San Diego by the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo (BAW/
TAF). The BAW/TAF was by then well known for conceptual, political,
and performative works that addressed the problem of living beside and
between the border between Mexico and the United States. By contrast,
the Kalgoorlie artists were unknown and their work was exhibited
unnamed. Their rough, naive paintings of Aboriginal Australian flags and
landscapes were made on the streets of a mining city hostile to its
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
*Email: [email protected]
World Art, 2018
Vol. 8, No. 2, 207–224, https://doi.org/10.1080/21500894.2018.1522370
Aboriginal population (see for example Figures 1 and 2). The San Diego
exhibition enables us to think about this Australian collection as border
art, a term that was conceived to describe art from the borderlands of
Mexico and the United States (Sheren 2016). The nature of border art,
who it belongs to and what it means, has been contested by the artists
and institutions of this region as it represents the politics of border crossing,
identity and labour (see Berelowitz 1997). Borders are after all not only
geopolitical, but cultural, economic and racial as well. To cross into the
United States, for example, is to be harassed by the border patrol, the
police and more established migrants for being poor and Mexican (Vila
2003a). So it is that borders are reproduced within nation-states as
much as outside them. They are infra-national as well as territorial. This
has long been recognised by border theory, which takes borderlands
across the world as a field of study (Wilson and Donnan 2012, 7–9).
One Tree Project
Kalgoorlie in Western Australia is the site of an infra-national border
between Aboriginal people and settlers, dating back to the arrival of settlers
in the region to establish gold mines in the 1890s. While Australia has been
famously defined by Patrick Wolfe as a settler-colonial country because of
the attempted genocide of its Indigenous population (Wolfe 2006), here
the local Wongathi population survived in missions, on government settlements,
as labourers on pastoral operations and as so-called fringe dwellers
living in camps on the outskirts of Kalgoorlie (Muller 2014). In the 1990s,
and despite decades of government reform, this exclusion was still
embedded in the culture of Kalgoorlie, in a geography of poverty and
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