Death of an anthropologist

By: Louk Vreeswijk

Feb 05 2017

Tags: , , ,

Category: Australia, Oceania

1 Comment

Focal Length:21mm
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I haven’t found an explanation by the Aboriginal painter July Dowling about this work of hers. Whatever I say about it will be guesswork. But it is interesting, and probably not without significance, to note that apart from red ochre and synthetic paint, blood has been used in the painting.

The three Aboriginal women’s faces in the dark stare at us with gloomy looks. In front of them: a body of which the twisted hands attract attention. Is this the anthropologist? Is he dead, or still in the agony of death? Whatever is the case, the women do not seem to be overcome by grief about his fate. Their look rather leads me to suspect that they themselves may be to blame for his death, as if saying: It serves him right!

Missionaries and anthropologists, having come along in the wake of the white colonizers, have often been identified with the oppressors, and not always without reason. Maybe the painting refers to this historical background of the oppression and suffering of her people.

The sawn off skull on the left of the women’s heads certainly has some symbolic meaning which however remains hanging in ambivalence. In my opinion the skull spoils the effect of the work to some extent. Without it the painting gains in mysterious force.

DSC00261 - Death of an anthropologist - detail (1996 - by Julie Dowling) - Perth 2013

Photo of the week: Death of an anthropologist (1996); red ochre, blood and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, by Julie (Yaminga) Dowling, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Australia 2013

One comment on “Death of an anthropologist”

  1. Yes, it’s intriguing, and as you say, improved by omission of the skull. The phrase “death of an anthropologist” could have many meanings.


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