Julie Dowling

                                     ‘Uncle Freedom’ , 2000
Synthetic polymer paint, oil and ochre on canvas. 
                                                       source: http://www.juliedowling.net

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’[1] 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’[2], 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’[3].

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’[4]; 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’[5] – 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’[6].

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?

[2] Justin Murphy, Julie Dowling, Picture the Woman, ABC commercial. (Australia, November, 2007). http://www.abc.net.au/abccontentsales/s1120704.htm  

[3] Ibid.

[4] 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.  

[5] Ibid.

[6] Gabriella Coslovich, Truth in Black and White, The Age, July 31, 2007.


‘Self portrait – in our country’, 2002
Synthetic polymer paint, oil and red ochre on canvas.   source: http://www.juliedowling.net

‘My Great Uncle George’, 2004
Acrylic and red ochre on canvas.
source: http://www.juliedowling.net

‘Dies on the cross’, 2005
Oil on Canvas
source: artsearch.nga.gov.au


3 thoughts on “Julie Dowling

  1. I don’t believe so. If someone where to suggest that one can only explore issues of discrimination and inequalities experienced by the Indigenous people of Australia if they’re black, that would be in itself racist. Julie Dowling is a great example, and she is certainly not the only Aboriginal artist out there with “white” skin drawing attention to the discriminations faced by our Indigenous population. In fact a doco was made in 2007, Between the Lines, which follows activist artist and musician of mixed aboriginal and white decent, Adam Hill on his “artistic and personal journey of identity through his artwork.”

    Read more: http://www.creativespirits.info/resources/movies/between-the-lines-the-initiation-of-adam-hill#ixzz27ivgA6S4

    Or watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Lyza1jsa8hg

    One’s skin colour should not dictate one’s right to explore any social issue. Having said this, one could argue that the challenges faced by Aboriginal people in Australia are personal and an outside would not be able to appreciate the extent of their effect on both individuals and communities.

  2. i understand the notion that an outsider my not be able to fully understand the issues that indigenous Australians have to face, however i find it hard to believe that all young Aboriginal artists practicing indigenous art have personally suffered the same treatment as their ancestors. Because of this i believe anyone of any skin colour should be able to comment on any social issue they feel need to comment on. i’m not trying to discredit the life experience of any indigenous artists, i just believe that in this time someone who isn’t of Aboriginal background can easily have an educated understanding of the discrimination suffered by Indigenous Australians equal to some Indigenous Australians.

  3. An artists’ skin colour should definitely not matter when addressing indigenous issues, as many descendants of aborigines aren’t always dark-skinned. Julie Dowling, as Joey wrote about, is a great example of one, and another is Bindi Cole. Her series of works that were exhibited in Contemporary Centre for photography during 2008 show photographs of her family, who are fair skinned, has their faces painted black. The show was called “Not Really Aboriginal” and it explores “how black you need to look to be considered Aboriginal and how white Aboriginals cross the cultural divide. Ultimately, it is a celebration of Aboriginality in all its forms. ”
    Here is the full brochure: http://www.ccp.org.au/docs/catalogues/BindiCole.pdf

    Though, I think even people who aren’t aboriginal could explore indigenous issues. I agree with Chai that someone who isn’t aboriginal can possess an educated understanding of indigenous issues as much as an aboriginal. I’ve known people who aren’t of indigenous descent go on missions trips to indigenous communities to spend time with them and aid them. Through that, they had become a part of the community and basically family. I think it’s human to stand up for people that suffer injustices regardless of your skin colour.

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