Posted by Aboriginal Art Directory | 05.07.10
Author: Rosemary Sorensen
News source: The Australian
Andrew Sayers, the national museum's new head wants it to be political, not politicised
One of the first tasks for Andrew Sayers when he took up his post last month as director of the National Museum of Australia was to accompany the Papunya Painting exhibition to Beijing, where it opened at the National Art Museum of China.
The first event in a year-long Australian government-funded program in China called Imagine Australia, the Papunya show is, says Sayers, "certainly art, but it's art so full of meanings that it's entirely justifiable that museums have such collections".
"We don't ever look at indigenous art only from the aesthetic point of view," Sayers says. "In China many of the commentators said, 'Oh, it looks like abstract art' and that's right, and that's part of the reason for the enormous take-up of indigenous art in this country. But in another sense, while it has a form of abstraction, it is not abstract. It also points to other meanings."
Sayers says the dominant line of questioning from journalists at the opening of Papunya Painting was about government policy in relation to indigenous culture.
"That reflects to some degree a Chinese view of the role of the state in culture, which we don't necessarily have in Australia," he says.
The meaning of culture ("modes of world view, modes of talking about the world, symbolic languages") is the business of a museum, the new director of the NMA says. Choosing his words with a deliberation that comes from a desire for clarity rather than from slowness of mind, Sayers sketches the big picture for the institution, which will turn 10 next year.
"I think the museum gives us the possibility to talk about culture in a really broad way," Sayers says. "We can address the things that are concerning to us in contemporary culture: health, environmental degradation, what should our level of population be, and so on. All these things the museum should be engaging with, because all of them have a history we can illustrate and talk about."