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Dimensions:
250 × 190 mm
304 pages
Format:
Hardback
ISBN:
9781780235905
Illustrations:
149 illustrations, 142 in colour
Published:
20 Jun 2016

Rattling Spears A History of Indigenous Australian Art Ian McLean

Large, bold and colourful, Indigenous Australian art has impressed itself on the contemporary imagination. But it is controversial, dividing the stakeholders from those who smell a scam. Whether the artists are victims or victors, there is no denying their impact in the media and on the art world and collectors worldwide. How did it become the most successful Indigenous art in the world? How did its artists escape the ethnographic and souvenir markets to become players in an art world from which they had been barred? Finely illustrated, this full historical account makes you question everything you were taught about modern and contemporary art.

‘a book so elegantly produced it seems to belong in a white-cube exhibition space . . . Rattling Spears is McLean’s attempt to tell the story of the movement from its beginnings through to the variegated indigenous art world of today.’ – The Australian

‘Mclean has a very good eye, and that the 149 illustrations in the book, 142 of which are in colour have a coherence, a beauty, a grandeur, indeed a shimmer, which makes Rattling Spears worth owning even if you don’t want to engage with the text. And if you do read the argument, and then reject it, the book still constitutes the best, most comprehensive, accessible and detailed survey of a complex and beguiling field of study that I have yet come across. It is an outstanding achievement.’ – Sydney Review of Books

‘Mclean’s radical but commonsense approach is to show how indigenous artists responded to and engaged with modernity, beginning with Captain Cook anchoring off the coast in 1770. Mclean treats contemporary indigenous artists not as ‘pure,’ to be kept safe from Western culture, but as actively engaged with modernism, and in fact quite successful at making a place for their art in today’s world, while operating in both modern and traditional temporal frames. He deploys current critical terminology fluidly, insisting on a transcultural context for the art, while also explaining the “Dreaming,“ the still-evolving mythopoeic sagas about ancestral beings and spirits that animate indigenous thought. He is clear-eyed about the roles that marketing, ambitious anthropologists, and cannily entrepreneurial indigenous artists played in the late-twentieth-century marketing of this work. The text is illustrated by a spare but well-chosen selection of nicely printed reproductions.’ – Bookforum

‘This beautifully illustrated book explores the ways in which Indigenous Australians have responded to invasion through art. “Where colonists saw a gulf,“ writes art historian Ian McLean, “Aborigines saw bridges. They didn’t hesitate to be modern, but on their terms.“ . . . The tension between old and new, tradition and modernity, is evoked in the image of the rattling spears in the title . . . The art that appears in the pages of Rattling Spears is similarly potent: it keeps the past alive and makes claims upon the present . . . the book never ceases to be engaging, and it gathers momentum over the course of the narrative’ – Australian Book Review

‘McLean’s highly readable and absorbing book [is] a fine example of a postcolonial analysis at work, and a compelling rereading of the power, impact and enduring appeal of a vast, fascinating and complex realm of Australian visual and cultural expression.’ – Australian Historical Studies

‘this is the first book to provide comprehensive coverage of the unfolding of indigenous art across time and place, across styles and borders, and across cultures . . . Clearly organized and well written, the content is theoretical and factual, and McLean supports the discussion with excellent illustrations. One of the most important publications on the topic to date. Highly recommended’ – Choice

Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art is the first comprehensive art historical account of this fascinating topic. It tells a clear and compelling story of the complex development of Indigenous art in Australia, from the first encounters between Indigenous and European explorers in the later eighteenth century right up to the present, as this “contact art” manifests itself as one of the major movements within contemporary world art.’ – Terry Smith, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh


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Ian Mclean is Senior Research Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Wollongong and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia. His previous books include Double Desire: Transculturation and Indigenous Art (2014), How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art (2011) and White Aborigines: Identity Politics in Australian Art (1998, reissue 2009).