Rhythm and the Performative Power of the Index: Lessons from Kathleen Petyarre's Paintings

Barbara Bolt


Is it possible to find an ethical and generative way to speak about the ‘work’ of Indigenous art? Regardless of what prohibitions exist to protect sacred knowledge from the gaze of Western eyes, Indigenous work is circulating; it is being read, misread, interpreted, misinterpreted and otherwise known. How can a non-Indigenous person ‘speak’ about Indigenous art without reducing it to the diagram, collapsing it into Western modes of knowing, or intruding into the domain of restricted cultural information? Given the lessons of the Indigenous cultural practices, I propose that the work of art is performative and not merely representational. Through attention to the operation of rhythm in Kathleen Petyarre’s paintings, I propose to reconfigure contemporary understandings of performativity. In this formulation I will argue that in the dynamic productivity of the performative act, the world intrudes into practice, and in a double movement, practice casts its effects back towards the world. In this way I suggest that just as life gets into images, so imaging also produces reality. This mutual reflection is the work of art.


Indigeonous art; Kathleen Petyarre; performative art; Indigenous cultural practices

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/csr.v12i1.3413