Gendering Aboriginalism: A Performative Gaze on Indigenous Australian Women

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Katelyn Barney


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.

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Articles (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Katelyn Barney, University of Queensland

Katelyn Barney is project manager and managing editor of The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at the University of Queensland. Her doctoral research focused on the performance practices of Indigenous Australian women who perform in contemporary music contexts. She has published widely on issues relating to collaborative research with Indigenous Australian women performers, representation and ethics, and reflective writing as a teaching and learning tool in higher education. She has also co-edited a book on music, place and research. Kate is secretary of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (Australia and New Zealand Branch).