The 32 year old Bidjara artist from SW Queensland, Christian Bumbarra Thompson has been announced as one of the first two Aborigines to go to study at Oxford University.
Working mainly in Melbourne in recent years, and operating mostly in photography and multi-media, Thompson is particularly interested in engaging with the world-famous Pitt-Rivers Anthropological Museum in Oxford with the aim of “referencing and disrupting” conventional images of Aborigines in museums and art galleries.
Many of his own images – like ‘Hunting Ground‘ (illus) – tackle such disruption wittily, paying tribute to the American artist Cindy Sherman. An image of himself as Andy Warhol, for instance, “forms a key to Thompson’s desire for himself and other Aboriginal artists to be part of global discourse in art making”, according to Marianne Riphagen in the NGA’s ‘Culture Warriors‘ catalogue – for which Thompson was selected in 2007.
He himself has entered the global discourse through residencies in Bangkok, Singapore and Arizona, and he’s currently studying for his second Masters degree in The Netherlands – a Masters in Theatre at the Amsterdam School of Fine Arts. As an academic, he’s also taught art at RMIT.
The 2 three year Oxford scholarships are the consequence of dreams and fund-raising by the Charlie Perkins Trust – chaired by Hetti Perkins, NSW Art Gallery’s Senior Curator of Indigenous Art. Father Charlie was playing professional soccer in the UK against Oxford University in the 60s when he convinced himself that he should get a degree too. He returned to become the first indigenous graduate form Sydney University. The second of these inaugural awards has gone to the Wiradjuri psychologist, Paul Gray.
Both the Australian and British governments have contributed to the scholarship fund, as have Rio Tinto and Qantas. But the Trust wants to set up an $11m. fund from which future Aboriginal scholars can have all their fees, travel and accommodation paid.
The Trust argues that the more indigenous academics and mentors there are in Australian universities, the more indigenous students will feel comfortable in studying at them.