An ABC report that one of the Centre’s most successful private art dealers has launched a takoever bid for the Papunya Tula Co-operative points to an interesting new chapter in the turbulent history of Central Australian Aboriginal art.


Is it really as easy to pick a Papunya Tula dot painting as distinct from those found in other galleries? Is Ms Bout telling us that the works of the artists to whom Rothwell is referring are of a lesser standard than what we see at Papunya Tula? Are we meant to believe that independent galleries never lavish the time and care on artists and their familes that Papunya Tula workers do?

Of course, there are some people who seem to believe just that. What else could explain the fact that state galleries around Australia refuse to buy works by Aboriginal artists who have chosen to go through the private art world?

The intervention sparked a mass outcry from the left about infringements on human rights that were transparently, if clumsily, designed to protect the right of children to care and nourishment. But the right of individuals to act as non-Aboriginal individuals do, and have that decision respected, is often disregarded.

Regardless of rhetoric, many advocates of Aboriginal people appear to be attached to rigid models that specify very particularly what is good for Aboriginal people. This is tied up with assumptions about how individuals should be expected to behave as part of their culture. Some members of the Horn expedition, for example, are said to haveshowed contempt towards Aborigines who chose to adopt the convention of wearing clothes, for not being real Aborigines.

Regardless of who runs Papunya Tula, it’s time to stop looking at the Aboriginal art scene through ideological blinkers “ for the sake not only of the artists, but the art itself.