Disrupting Artistic Terra Nullius: The Ways that First Nations Women in Art & Community Speak Blak to the Colony & Patriarchy

Balla, Paola ORCID: 0000-0002-1321-1363 (2020) Disrupting Artistic Terra Nullius: The Ways that First Nations Women in Art & Community Speak Blak to the Colony & Patriarchy. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


The concept of ‘artistic terra nullius’ refers to the violent erasure of First Nations peoples in colony Australia and highlights their absence – particularly Aboriginal Women – in the white-dominated arts world. This doctoral research by creative project and exegesis sets out to document and respond to the work of Aboriginal women in art and community. I have used practice-led inquiry as the main methodology, informed by my own roles as artist, writer, curator, community researcher and as a Wemba-Wemba & Gunditjmara, matriarchal and sovereign woman. Practising community ways of 'being, knowing and doing' to witness, participate and respond to Aboriginal women's art making and activism, I developed a new body of visual works and a series of essays, together with an exegesis relating to the project as a whole. The exhibition in December 2019 at Footscray Community Arts Centre held two bodies of work in two spaces. The ontological (or Being) space was a healing space of unconditional love, one of memory, timelessness, and respite. It has been created as 'daily acts of repair' in collaboration with other Aboriginal women and family members in a new process of bush dyeing fabrics, clothing and rags to become 'healing cloths”, dyed with gathered gum leaves, bush flowers, plants and Wemba-Wemba family bush medicine gifted to me from my Aunties. As a three-dimensional space, it makes visible trauma trails and stains and visualises what respite and healing could look and feel like. Under the 1961 flickering Super-8 image of my great-grandmother, this space also recreates ‘home’, particularly resonating with Aboriginal women’s curation of ‘home’ even in Mission housing. The second space, an epistemological (or Knowing) space, was an active studio of photographic based works drawn from matriarchal family stories, both past, present and future, and archival research. It included scholarly and other literature on Blak art and representation, in a recreation of my home studio and office. These bodies of work were made over a four-year project, drawing on concepts of de-colonising, Aboriginal feminist standpoint theory (Moreton- Robinson) and sovereignty. In emphasising making art as both research and artistic outcomes, I demonstrate art as a sovereign act, based in cultural practice and sovereign values. Both the exhibition spaces and the exegesis weave across past, present and future, across research in family, community and the Aboriginal women’s arts-work, across multiple creative media and stories – in the process here called ‘Ghost Weaving’. Responding to various modes of oppression, patriarchy and racism, Blak women’s art is not only a form of resistance to colonising, to violence, to academia and the white art world. It is also an ethical foregrounding of other forms of knowing and being. The exegesis is in two main parts: the written, thesis-element and a series of appendices which include a pictorial record of the exhibition, links and lists of related works, including relevant essays.

Additional Information

PhD by Creative Project and Exegesis.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/42147
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3699 Other creative arts and writing
Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4501 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, language and history
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Current > Division/Research > Moondani Balluk
Keywords creative project; exegesis; practice-led inquiry; practice-led art research; women; art; bush dyeing; community; research; activism; sovereignty; art exhibition.
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