Gendering Aboriginalism: A Performative Gaze on Indigenous Australian Women

Katelyn Barney

Abstract

One of the most common Aboriginalist representations of Indigenous Australian people is, as Indigenous female performer Lou Bennett points out, ‘basically a man, out in the desert, black skin, flat nose with a lap-lap on, standing on one leg, resting against a spear’. Her comment raises many issues. In what ways are discourses of Aboriginalism gendered? How does Aboriginalism affect performance and specifically Aboriginal women performers? In exploring these questions, I examine Aboriginalist representations of Aboriginal women performers by white male scholars and the role of women anthropologists in the production of Aboriginalist discourse about Aboriginal women. Drawing on interviews with Indigenous women performers and musical examples of their songs, I explore the impact of Aboriginalism on non-Indigenous expectations of Indigenous Australian women performing in contemporary music contexts, the strategies performers use to work within and against these constructions and my own relationship to Aboriginalism.

Keywords

Aboriginalism; music performance; Indigenous Australia; women; anthropology

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