Contemporary Indigenous Australian Art on the subject of the Stolen Generation and the use of visual means as a form of activism towards bringing about social change and awareness, has evolved into becoming a form of visually depicting and expressing ‘remembering’ as a form of prompting society to embrace the Indigenous culture and its people.
The Stolen Generation refers to children who ‘were forcibly removed from Indigenous Australians as young as possible’ as a means of separating them from their culture and people; this act was Australia’s way of, almost, breeding out the existence of the Aboriginals.
‘Aboriginal but white skinned, having shared life of rejection and abuse, identically overweight’, Julie Dowling and her twin sister are the ‘product of generations of damaged and displaced women. As they grew up they had almost no place in modern society – twin white waifs to a single mother, rejected at birth by their father, entirely dependent on welfare’.
Julie Dowling (1969 – ) is a prominent contemporary Aboriginal artist who has gained a reputation for using Art to boldly explore and comment on the history and culture of the Aborigines; especially imagery that she can personally connect to. The artist was quoted saying that ‘My skin colour does not explain that I have experienced discrimination and seen racism inflicted upon my family’; and with that said, Dowling began to use visual methods and the additional inclusion of powerful text – in the form of painting, to express to the greater audience, the suffering, emotion and racism that the Indigenous people have withstood.
Dowling believes that Indigenous artists work towards educating viewers of the sacredness of their messages – and as a result, many Indigenous artists choose to work with pigments and other alternative materials such as ochres; as doing so is seen to be a sacred act. With that said, Dowling mixes ochre colours with vibrant acrylics as a means of combining traditional Indigenous methods and materials with those of Western creation / style.
In a way, Dowling’s works can be seen as that of activist art. However, her works don’t aim to shock viewers into gaining awareness of the history and lifestyles of the Indigenous; they instead aim to affect the emotions of viewers.
By using Western techniques, Dowling’s works draws upon the traditions of ‘oral history’ – as well as adopting the role of documenting her family’s history through portraiture. Most of Dowling’s’ art comprises of portraits of family members, self-portraits, as well as imagery drawn from visually imagining stories that have been handed down through the generations. Dowling’s paintings ‘demand attention…she paints about her complicated past and her hopes for the future’.
Comment question: Do you think an artist’s skin colour should influence or dictate whether they can explore the history, styles or even struggles of the Indigenous Australians?
 Justin Murphy, Julie Dowling, Picture the Woman, ABC commercial. (Australia, November, 2007). http://www.abc.net.au/abccontentsales/s1120704.htm
 Julie Dowling as quoted in Judith Ryan, Colour Power: Aboriginal art post 1984: in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. (Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2004), 137.
 Gabriella Coslovich, Truth in Black and White, The Age, July 31, 2007.